What America Can Learn From The World’s Largest Democracy – India

I lived in the US for 14 years and am still stymied by the fact that American citizens depend on paper ballots. In the year 2000, when I was in the US, I was astonished that in the most advanced country in the world, paper ballots were still used and the worst was that you had actually to punch through the dot on your favoured candidate.

That is the time I got to know what Pregnant Chads were—if you did not punch through the dot on your favoured candidate, and I mean right through and get the paper off the dot completely as you would punch on a paper you wanted to attach to a file, your vote could be disqualified as a Pregnant Chad, meaning you had not voted right. This was totally amazing and a bit surreal to me. This was when George Bush Junior was competing against Al Gore to be President of the US. The vote came down to a wire. Al Gore was clearly winning it seemed, but George Bush’s brother Jeb Bush who Governor of Florida had reportedly promised Florida on a platter to his brother.

November 2000 was one where it took weeks to declare a President. The presidential election resulted in a tie between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush. The results in Florida were unclear by the end of election night and resulted in a recount where many ballots depended on Pregnant Chads, which were discounted. This led to a Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, which ended the dispute in favor of Bush a month later. The election exposed several flaws and controversial elements of the American electoral process and was the fourth of five U.S. presidential elections in which the winner lost the popular vote.

To think that as I write this the same kind of voting system remains in the US in 2020, whereas in India the World’s largest Democracy where we have a clearly defined institution like the Election Commission of India, there are electronic voting machines since 2004. They are easy to use and there is no manual counting or paper ballots involved and the best part is the voting areas have to be within walking distance to voters. Months before the General Elections, an election commission worker comes to your address to see if you actually live there and takes down your details, including an ID number, which is now an Aadhaar Card, and a few weeks

before you get a slip of paper that tells you which is the nearest polling booth to you. You merely have to walk to your voting station on election day and show your voting slip, go into a booth and there are many, and tap on a button where the name and the symbols of all parties are clearly defined and tap on the button of your choice and Viola! It is done.

On Counting day, the machines which are carefully guarded in sealed rooms are brought out and within hours every state of the country gives out the results. The winner is declared within a day.

There have been disturbing news stories from America this election on how mail in ballots have been found in garbage cans and even postal services where mail in ballots are sent, can be tampered with or simple ignored. There is an added problem in America where there is no overall Election Commission, as in India. Where each state in America can decide the method in which voting and counting can take place. And even the dates by which votes can come in to be counted.

This can lead to possible manipulation, voter disenfranchisement and court cases, which certainly does not look good for the world’s oldest democracy as America claims to be, even though it did not give all its citizens voting rights until August 6, 1965, decades after India did.


Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons


Ashali Varma

Ashali Varma is a writer at India Se.