I sat through the counting of the preferential votes for the Academic Council Elections of Delhi University, held this year during February 10-12, 2017.
I remember this complex counting process since the time I contested for the post in 1996 and 1998. This extremely mathematical and highly scientific process takes around three complete days. The university hosts this important event by offering breakfasts, lunches and regular snack breaks to the staff, the candidates and their selected supporters.
The entire event is managed like a festival. The candidates and their supporters go through several emotional and sentimental upheavals during this three-day counting process. It resembles a three-day cricket test match. The counting officers close the process in the evenings, irrespective of the built up interest during the entire day of counting.
The candidates are sleepless with worry during the counting days. They come early at the counting centre to find out about their fate; locked in the ballots boxes. Counting of preferential votes has the potential to throw surprises. Just like one expects in the slog overs in a cricket match.
The distribution of surplus votes combined with the process of elimination has scripted many exciting stories over the years. That keeps the excitement alive in each one who attends and participates in this event.
However, the process is too tiring. It emotionally exhausts some of those candidates who unfortunately fail to make it in the end.
What disappoints me is that in this age of computers, this painstakingly complicated counting process is still being done in age-old ways. The university seems to have refused to modernise the event by simplifying this cumbersome and extremely tiring process. One may think of making an attempt to replace the ballot-box voting system by customised EVM machines, specially designed to serve the purpose.
Understandably, this switchover would require a sustained effort with a clear vision of the authorities, as this would require the university to engage a hardware developing company.
If this seems difficult, I see absolutely no reason for not using a computer at least for calculations. One can easily use Microsoft Excel sheets to save the time that is unnecessarily spent in calculating votes of each candidate after each round of passing on the ballots from the tray of one candidate to another. Using an excel sheet would also ensure that there are no errors in the calculations.
It is disappointing to see the counting officers working manually so hard when the same work can be done with a click of a mouse. An excel sheet showing a row for each of the candidates would require only entries to be done for the number of ballots that one receives in a particular round. The value of those votes along with the updated votes of the candidate would show itself almost instantaneously in another column. A large screen display inside and outside the counting centre can be provided to make the process as transparent and as efficient as possible. The candidates would not have to note down the entries of each round as the data could be uploaded on the university’s website at the end and everyone would be able to inspect and verify these.
The manner, in which the counting is done, unfortunately, provides ample scope for mistakes and lapses. To plug these, one must switch to automated processes. Voting through OMR sheets could be one such option as this can ensure zero mistakes in reading the preferences.
Currently, everything is done manually, and I am sure the chances of getting different counts are very high if the process is repeated to verify the entries. Using OMR sheets would also be much easier and cheaper than developing customised EVM machines.
It only underlines the inertia with which this university refuses to modernise itself.
I can list out several such instances where the use of computers and LAN-WAN networks, that are already otherwise available with the university, can simplify processes. Nobody can deny that such a switch over from manual to automated processes can also increase the efficiency and transparency that is often seen missing in the college and university administration.