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Assessing possibility of postal ballots for NRI

  • Published
    5th Nov, 2022
Context

The Election commission is contemplating the possibility of postal ballots for overseas migrants.

About

What is the issue?

  • Citizens who leave the country for short-term work often miss out on exercising their voting rights.
  • Overseas citizens, although can cast their vote, the necessity to vote in person comes with a monetary cost and acts as a disincentive for their wanting to exercise their mandate.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, only 25,606 among the minuscule 99,844 registered electors voted.

Developments:

  • Proxy voting: In 2014, a committee constituted by the ECI concluded that proxy voting was the most viable solution.
    • A Bill was passed in the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) to enable this. But Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
  • The ECI then approached the government to permit NRIs to vote via postal ballots similar to a system that is already used by service voters, (a member of the armed Forces of the Union; or a member of a force to which provisions of the Army Act, 1950 which is the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System or ETPBS.

Voting Rules for overseas voters:

  • Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010: After the passing of the Act, NRIs have been able to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector.
    • The provision of having to visit the polling booth in person has discouraged eligible voters from exercising their mandate.
  • Amendment to Conduct of Election Rules, 1961: The Rule was amended in 2016 to allow service voters to use the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS).
  • Under this system, postal ballots are sent electronically to registered service voters.
  • The service voter can then register their mandate on the ballot and send it back via ordinary mail.
  • The ECI proposed to extend this facility to overseas voters as well.
  • In the case of overseas voters: the address mentioned in the passport is taken as the place of ordinary residence and chosen as the constituency for the overseas voter to enroll.

Service voters are those who have a service qualification. Someone who is either a member of the Armed Forces of the Union, Armed Police Force of a State, or someone who is merely employed under the Government of India. They can cast their votes either through postal ballot or through a proxy voter duly appointed to them. A voter who opts to vote through a proxy is called a Classified Service Voter.

Possible outcomes of allowing Postal ballot use:

  • Greater turnout among service voters in the process of voting.
  • It is a more trustworthy way of registering mandates rather than appointing proxies.
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