Summary:Inspite of 2009 being a good year for voter turnout because of the increased number of election awareness campaigns and other triggers\u2014like the terror attacks in Mumbai, the fact remains that over half of India's urban middle class doesn't vote. This is a worry among policy-makers. They would try freebies, but those don't work with urban voters. Read on to know how Gujarat's State Election Commission gave India its first-ever online voting platform and increased voter turnout by almost 20 percent.Highlights:Key to getting the project off the ground was convincing multiple stakeholders that the system was secure and fool-proof.Mumbai (43.2 percent), Bangalore (46 percent), Delhi (53 percent). These are the sorry figures of voter turnout among the urban middle class in the 2009 general elections.Yet, 2009 was supposed to be a good year for voter turnout because of the increased number of election awareness campaigns and other triggers\u2014like the terror attacks in Mumbai. The fact that over half of India's urban middle class doesn't vote is a worry among policy-makers. They would try freebies, but those don't work with urban voters.Before K.C. Kapoor, state election commissioner, Gujarat, could launch an online voting platform, he had to fight off disbelievers \u2014including a PIL against the project.But convenience does. That's why, for the first time in India, the State Election Commission of Gujarat (SEC) introduced online voting in the state's 2010 municipal elections.\u00a0 To get there, K.C. Kapoor, the state election commissioner, would have to take a lot of heat.Empty Booth Because this was a first in the country, there weren\u2019t any solutions for Kapoor to replicate. \u201cWe had no guidance available,\u201d says Kapoor. Worse, some of the technology providers he approached weren\u2019t convinced that the idea was a good one. \u201cThe lack of support from vendors for the project was disheartening,\u201d he says. Their skepticism isn't surprising. Online voting is a controversial subject the world over. In fact, among the many challenges Kapoor had to endure was a PIL against the SEC filed with the Gujarat High Court. The PIL argued that the e-voting process could compromise the voter's right to secrecy. Key to getting the project off the ground was convincing multiple stakeholders that the system was secure and fool-proof. Kapoor had a plan. First, in order to register as an e-voter, individuals need to be registered voters in their locality, and must own a mobile connection, and must have access to the Internet from a personal computer. Once they register, staff from the collectorate and the municipal commissioner\u2019s office manually verify their identities. This ensures the validity of the voter\u2019s existence. Voters who want to use the online platform also need to register their personal computer with the SEC.\u00a0 The SEC will then send them a password to log into the voting site. Post this, voters will receive a PIN\u2014only valid for five minutes\u2014that allows them to submit their vote. Both the password and the PIN are only usable on the machine that was initially registered. This was Kapoor's way of ensuring against proxy voting. After casting their vote, voters receive an online receipt confirming their vote. Their selection is then encrypted and stored at the SEC's datacenter. This is done to ensure that a voter\u2019s selection cannot be traced back to them. To safeguard against the tampering of votes once they are stored on SEC's servers, Kapoor ensured that returning officers in charge of the counting can only access the numbers with biometric cards\u2014and the system also requires that at least two returning officers authenticate it together.Before K.C. Kapoor, state election commissioner, Gujarat, could launch an online voting platform, he had to fight off disbelievers \u2014including a PIL against the project.Counting On IT The infrastructure backbone that enabled the online voting platform was created keeping peak loads in mind. SEC's datacenter consists of 32 servers with a DR datacenter of equal capacity. The SEC, says Kapoor, has also provisioned for a back up DR site. To lock all doors, the SEC decided to include a third-party auditor, Indusface, to ensure maximum security. This was done to ensure that the system fulfilled four major requirements: Authentication, availability, confidentiality and integrity. \u201cExtra care was taken to secure registration, authentication and the secrecy of online voters. This was also done to avoid social engineering and communication infrastructure attacks,\u201d says Kapoor. The security system at the datacenter is divided into modules. Each module filters inputs or votes and checks their validity. Apart from this there is also a constant monitoring of votes cast and corrective action is taken as soon as any suspicious activity is detected. One thing worked in Kapoor\u2019s favor:\u00a0 The website that gives voters access to the list of candidates is operational only during the election days from 8 AM to 5 PM. On other days, the datacenter is unplugged from the Internet. \u201cSo hackers have a very small window to try their stunts,\u201d says Kapoor. The Freebies Once the necessary infrastructure was in place, the SEC held a proof-of-concept to test the system at Ahmedabad.\u00a0 Kapoor invited people who had filed the PIL against the project. It was a success. The SEC decided to pilot the project in one ward each for six municipal corporations during the elections held in October 2010. On the day of polling, the pilot was welcomed with nearly 5,000 instances of attacks and attempts to hack the system, even from countries as far away as Poland. But thanks to Kapoor's multi-tiered approach and constant monitoring, these threats were intercepted and denied a chance to affect the system. This was a shot in the arm that the SEC needed and it gave them the confidence to enable the system for all the wards in the Gandhinagar municipal elections. The fall in the number of attempts to get into the system during the Gandhinagar elections only stands testimony to the solidity of the process, points out Kapoor. While the resilience of the system has fairly succeeded in zipping the lips of naysayers, the project is yet to garner popular support. \u201cEven the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, where the PIL is filed against the SEC, has observed that technology is being used for everything these days and there is no point denying its use in the voting process,\u201d says Kapoor. The system faired well in terms of voter turnout with 77.2 percent of registered e-voters casting their votes as compared to 59.2 percent through EVMs. That said, the SEC could only register 670 voters due to time constraints. There\u2019s no denying though that the project has been a success. It has received international recognition with people from as far away as Norway coming to study the system. This has also inspired the electoral officers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. With the state pushing for a compulsory voting bill to be passed in the Rajya Sabha, this facility will come as a boon for all those with Internet access. And that will help Kapoor realize his dream of making online voting widespread and turning voter apathy to voter empathy.