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Election Management and GIS

Conducting elections in India is a complicated task, being the second most populous nation in the world and the largest democracy. Democratic form of governance is of two types, direct and indirect. Owing to the large population of this nation, it is practically impossible for each and every individual to run the administration (direct democracy). Hence, indirect form of democracy is practiced, in which citizens elect representatives who run the nation. Therefore, the selection of these representatives is important and so elections form an integral part of the system of democracy.

The boost in communication and awareness among citizens has invited a need to vote intelligently. The presence of social media has highlighted this further. However, due to rising workload and stress, citizens are less inclined to be a part of the voting process. Hence there is a need for a well-organised, hassle-free, fair system to vote that would appeal to the working masses.Simultaneously, from the administrative point of view, officials need to handle voluminous data at different stages viz., pre-election, day of the election and post-election. The herculean task here is to provide the right data, to the right person, at the right location. This paper looks at a possible solution to this problem through the use of GIS-based mapping technologies.

The process of elections has been followed in India since 1951, when the first general elections were held. In spite of all the preparation, every time, one finds data irregularities and inconsistency, voters names go missing from polling lists or names included in different polling booths. To add to the misery, confusion over the booth allocation for polling is also a common occurrence. Regardless of the numerous efforts undertaken by various individuals and parties, many of these problems have persisted. For the sake of simplicity, we have identified problems at the various stages of election management. (Table 1)

Table 1. Problems with Election Management at different stages

One possible solution to deal with this problem is the use of GIS. Maps are a great way to visualise data and understand the relationships between datasets. Productive utilisation of GIS technology in elections can be undertaken under the three levels mentioned above.

We have built a GIS-based application that provides a solution to the problems identified.For the purpose of building this application, a pilot area was selected on random selection and data availability; a part of the Metropolitan city of Bangalore was selected. Data was generated in-house. Mock statistical data was used to show different statistical functionalities in this application. When the application is deployed in a real life scenario, data from reliable sources shall be used.

Introduction to the application
The application can be used as a vital decision support tool for administrators as well as to the voters. A registered user can either fall into one of two groups – administrator or a regular user.

The administrative map view has an interactive interface by which the user can operate and use the map to get particular information. This map would show details to the administrator like the ward boundary, delineated blocks, individual buildings and voting booths. The administrator can view detailed information about the blocks such as the number of the block and the previous and current corporators. Information about individual blocks, buildings and voting booths can also be viewed.

Fig. 1 Screenshot of the administrative map

The statistical map view provides overlays of population characteristics of the ward. A chloropleth map is used to portray the total population, male population, female population and the population of voters.

Fig. 2 Screenshot of the statistical map

The administrator has access to the administration and statistical map views.

A regular user without administrative privileges can see the public view of the map, different from what the administrator sees. Sensitive data such as block and building information is filtered out. A regular user gets to see a chloropleth map based on voting dates and the allocated voting booth.

Fig.3 Screenshot of the user map interface

Technical details
The application is built using HTML and JavaScript, ensuring cross-browser compatibility with no add-ons needed to run it.Geoserver is used to provide spatial data as a service. This service is consumed using the Leaflet JavaScript Library to display it as a map.

Tool and functionality

Table 2 Functions along the three map views

Various tools provided in the application give the maps an interactive element that allows the user easy access to spatial data.

  1. Identify
    The identify tool is used to extract data about specific features such as buildings, blocks and voting booths. This feature is only present in the administrative map. The identify function can be used on blocks, buildings and voting booths in the administrative map. If a building is selected for identification, the details of the corresponding block are also displayed.
  2. Layer control
    The layer control is used to choose what layers to show on the map. The layer control is available for the administrativemapand statistical map.
  3. Search tool
    The search tool allows the user to search for voting booths in the map. The search tool also provides live suggestions based on the content the user typed in the search box. On execution of the search, the map pans and zooms to the destination. The search tool is available for both the administrative map and user map.
  4. Allocated booth
    The allocated booth tool is available only for the user map. It is designed to show the current user location, the allocated booth and the route from the user location to the voting booth.

This application can fuel efficient management and help improve the election process. GIS has been a critical component of the whole process, right from identifying booth locations to analysing the demographic spread across the constituency.

To reiterate; maps are a great way to visualize data and understand the relationships between datasets. Additionally, these maps can be made interactive through a dynamic application on the internet, so that officials, candidates, police and the general public can have a ‘common operational picture’. This solution enables better management of elections, a better experience for a member of the public and most importantly, a more effective campaign for the political party.