Monday, September 13, 2004

Assembly Elections and Information Technology

The other day, I had a talk with Mr. K Suryakrishnamurthy of the Chief Elections Office at his office in the Mantralaya, about how they can improve their website to incorporate better usability and accessibility. The website has recently come into the limelight after the Office announced that users can register for the polls and can check if they have been registered.

I was stunned when I knew how things work with them. Here are some of the problems they are currently facing.

  • All the states in the country have to publish their own electoral lists, which are only maintained by the Center. These lists have to necessarily be in the local language of the state. Not English. Not Hindi. This is actually not such a bad idea, because some names are best written in the script of that local language, and adapting it to some other language will kill the correctness of the spelling.
  • Since these lists are maintained in different languages, getting them to work on a single database is not possible, simply because storage and retrieval of data will be a pain in the ass when you have to know how to type in different languages.
  • The good folks at the Election Office don’t bother dumping this data in a database anyway, because they don’t know how to use databases.
  • The data lies in a PDF file. Yes, you heard that right. Not Oracle. Not MySQL. Not MSSQL Server. Not even Access.
  • Try putting a PDF list of electoral rolls online. Now, try providing a feature for users to search for their name.
  • End result 1: When you search, you have to know your town, assembly (what ever that is, and it is not the same as your town), then discover that you need Marathi fonts, then select the area of your residence, and then download the appropriate PDF file. Then, read through the PDF line by line to find out if you are going to the polls or not.
  • End result 2: Other than rewriting the data again, or implementing complicated translation algorithms, there’s really no solution to this.

Now, how do we make this easy to use!

Oh, and for the record, he said he doesn’t care about accessibility. He just wants this to work!

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