This week, India kicks off the largest election in world history, with a record 815 million people eligible to vote.
But how can such a massive operation in the diverse, South Asian country run smoothly enough to be one of the most peaceful democratic processes in the region?
The answer is simple: time. Since there are so many voters in so many jurisdictions, sometimes in remote locations, India allots nine separate days of voting spread between April 7 and May 12 to account for logistical and security concerns. Some regions just need one day for voting. Others need five days or more.
Voters in India elect 543 members to its lower house, called Lok Sabha, every five years. Since India uses a parliamentary system, a party need a 272-seat majority to elect its prime minister.
The country is plagued by political corruption, but that doesn't trickle down to elections. The Economist explains that public officials take elections seriously. They are good with "narrowly focused tasks of limited duration," they respond well to public scrutiny, and the Election Commission is independent, preventing bribes.
Voting began Monday in the remote northeastern regions of Assam and Tripura.
Voter turnout is expected to be high this year, thanks to frustrations with the ruling Congress Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, is the favorite to win the election.
To elect members of parliament, the Election Commission of India set up 930,000 polling stations. Officials aim for a polling station to serve no more than 1,500 people, who shouldn’t have to travel more than a mile or so to get there. This year, to account for the 100 million newly eligible voters now over age 18, the commission added 100,000 polling stations.
Some 11 million government personnel, which include members of the army, will be deployed to run the voting process. There are also an additional 5.5 million civilians who help manage voting.
Public schools and colleges are used as polling stations. A voter photo identification card is required.
Government officials deployed more than 25,000 policemen on Monday, during the first day of voting. India also closed its borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan to prevent armed insurrections. Since 1979, the Assam region has dealt with separatist movements, ethnic rebel groups, and Maoist rebels.
India uses Electronic Voting Machines at all of its polling stations. Each of the 1.7 million EVMs lists candidates, political parties, and the party's symbol (for illiterate voters). Voters have to press just one button.
Also, for the first time, machines include a "None of the above" button for voters wishing to abstain from voting.
Votes are transmitted to a small recording unit at the polling station.
Each recording unit has a unique number and is sealed until voting across the country concludes. The units also include a tag with a crest and wax to prevent tampering.
On May 16, four days after the final stage of voting, all votes will be counted. Officials collect the EVMs, which have been stored since voting day, press the "print" button on the machines and tally up the votes.
Results are gathered in a matter of hours.
To prevent people from voting twice, poll station workers mark voters' left index fingers with permanent ink after they vote. This practice has been in use since 1962.