Postal Ballot System
Polity & Governance
16th Jul, 2020
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has made it possible for senior citizens above the age of 65 to vote by postal ballot. Hitherto, this option was available only to disabled citizens and those above 80 years.
- The Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides for any person to be given the postal facility by the ECI in consultation with the government.
- The ECI had recommended that three categories of electors be given the postal ballot facility:
- Those 80 years and above
- Persons with disabilities
- Essential services workers
- This was notified by the government on October 22, 2019, and the ECI rolled it out as a pilot in seven constituencies in the Jharkhand Assembly elections last year.
- Subsequently, in the NCT of Delhi Legislative Assembly Elections in February 2020, this facility was extended in all 70 ACs.
- Due to COVID-19, the country is in lockdown since March 25, those above 65 years are categorized as vulnerable in COVID-19 pandemic, hence the ECI has decided to extend the postal ballot facility to them and those in-home or institutional quarantines to minimize their exposure in public and yet not deprive them of their voting rights.
- A new category of “Covid-19 suspect or affected persons” has been added under Rule 27A of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
Issues related to the recent extension of the Postal Ballot by the ECI
- The move will ensure to expand the voter base and remove obstacles to voters exercising their franchise.
- However, postal ballots may not minimize the risk of infection and it may be better instead to provide separate voting booths for senior citizens.
- Political parties argue that allowing those aged 65 and above to vote by postal ballot violates secrecy in voting as a large segment of the population is uneducated and they might seek assistance from others at numerous stages, ending up disclosing their preferred candidate.
- It also exposes a high percentage of voters to organized administrative influence or influence by the Government or the ruling party or their agents or any number of individuals who shall be able to identify these individuals in advance (with ease) and influence how they vote without the protection of the secret ballot.
- It will be doubly endangering not just the voters but those around them vis-à-vis exposure to the Covid-19 virus.
- Form 13A along with the Postal Ballot Paper has to be duly attested and notarized for which the voter will have to personally meet an officer.
- The voter shall have to utilize the services of a government postal office to send his or her postal ballot and therefore, will yet again risk either contracting or spreading Covid-19 infection.
Need of Extension of Postal Ballot for the Migrant Workers
- As per the Economic Survey 2017, internal migrant workers constitute about 13.9 crores, which is nearly a third of India’s labor force. Often they work hard in exploitative low-wage jobs, lacking identity and proper living conditions, without access to welfare and unable to exercise their voting rights.
- Migrant workers become quasi-disenfranchised, forgotten voters because they cannot afford to return home on Election Day to choose their representatives.
- Internal migrant workers do not enroll as voters in their place of employment:
- Since they find proof of residence hard to provide.
- Many are seasonal migrants who would rather vote in their villages if they could afford to return home.
- Since they do not have a vote where they work, their concerns are easy to ignore in their host State.
Voting Scenario in India
- India currently has over 91.05 crore registered voters and in the 2019 general election, a record 67.4%, i.e., 61.36 crore voters, cast their vote. One-third, a substantial 29.68 crore did not cast their vote.
- As per the National Election Study surveys about 10% of registered voters refrain from voting due to a lack of interest in politics. That leaves approximately 20 crore voters who want to vote but are unable to do so.
- Of these, there are about three crores Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Only about one lakh NRIs have registered to vote. Of them, about 25,000 voted in the 2019 elections.
Postal Ballot System
- Through this facility, a voter can cast her vote remotely by recording her preference on the ballot paper and sending it back to the election officer before counting.
- Currently, only the following voters are allowed to cast their votes through postal ballot:
- Service voters (government employees) posted away from home can vote through the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS).
- Classified service voters (e.g., military personnel) can do so through their proxies.
- Voters under preventive detention can also vote only by post.
- Recently, a new category of ‘absentee voters’ was introduced; the voters can now also opt for postal voting. These are voters employed in essential services and unable to cast their votes due to their service conditions.
- Currently, officials of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Northern Railway (Passenger and Freight) Services, and media persons are notified as absentee voters.
- The central mission of the ECI should be to ensure that every Indian who is eligible to vote can cast the vote.
- The ECI is testing an Aadhaar-linked voter-ID based solution to enable electors to cast their votes digitally from anywhere in the country. But, it must be ensured that the linkage with Aadhaar does not result in the exclusion of eligible individuals.
- To facilitate voting by migrant workers, the ECI could undertake substantial outreach measures using the network of District Collectorates.
- Migrants should be able to physically vote in their city of work based on the address on their existing voter IDs and the duration of their temporary stay.
- Voting must be viewed not just as a civic duty but as a civic right. We must demonstrate the political will to usher in ‘One Nation One Voter ID,’ to ensure native ballot portability and empower the forgotten migrant voter.