Coming as good news for NRIs, the Union External Affairs Ministry has approved e-postal votes for Non-Residential Indians. A recent proposal by the Election Commission to enable NRIS to cast their vote, the Ministry, however stated the Election Commission could implement it only after a detailed discussion with all the stakeholders.
If this is approved, the Ministry of Law will soon have to make amendments in the election rules that were formulated in 1961 for the effective implementation of E-postal votes. According to the existing laws, NRIs must cast their votes in person at their respective constituencies in India.
The Ministry of Law and External Affairs has held in-depth meetings regarding the draft guideline for implementing the e-postal votes. The MEA has urged the EC to conduct talks with various NRIs organisations and stressed that the EC should ensure that employees are available at each embassy during the voting.
The plan to introduce postal voting for NRIs on a pilot bases was first purposed in a meeting between the MEA and EC last month. The proposal may most likely get implemented first for voters based in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and South Africa.
In its letter to the law secretary on November 27, the EC has told the government that it was ‘technically and administratively ready’ to provide Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to NRI voters for the 2021 elections in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, and Puducherry.
However, currently, the ETPBS facility is only available to those serving in Defence, Armed Forces, Para Military forces, and those government employees serving abroad. Under this facility, the postal ballot is dispatched electronically and returned via ordinary mail.
Meanwhile, NRIs welcome the news. “In the past years, I have missed many opportunities to vote. It wasn't easy to travel to India to vote with the existing commitments and travel expenses involved. I strongly feel e-postal ballots would make this problem disappear. I don't see any concerns as such, but in the end, it all depends on how the Electoral Commission lays out a full-proof plan,” says Adityan Sasidharan Nair of Victoria, Australia.
Launched on 21st October 2016, Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS), is a two-layered security system developed by the Election Commission of India along with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) for service voters. Under this system, through electronic means, a postal ballot will be transmitted to the service voter. The service voter can then cast their vote and send it back to the respective returning officer via post. After receiving the postal ballot at the counting centres, the returning officer certifies the receipt through a series of QR codes.
Later, through a specific desktop application, the returning officer electronically generates the ballot paper. The ballot, with the list of candidates punched along their party names, gets encrypted in the system and is ready to be sent.
Through this system, the ballots get automatically transmitted to their constituency. The unit officer downloads the password-protected postal ballots on behalf of the service voter. Now, the downloaded postal ballot can be e-transmitted or hand-delivered using a secured network to the individual service voters. The PIN will be transmitted to the individual service voters by the Record Officer to make sure that the downloaded postal ballot is opened by the concerned service voter itself. Through several layers of security, the ETPBS transmits postal ballots from the returning officer to the service voters electronically.
According to the Election Commission, any NRI wishing to vote through the postal ballot system will have to inform the Returning Officer (RO) within five days after the release of election notification through Form 12. Following this, the RO will transmit the ballot paper electronically. The appointed Indian officer will download the ballot paper on the behalf of voters and hand it over to the overseas elector. Then, the overseas elector can mark their preference, get the self-declaration form attested by the designated officer, and gives back the ballot paper along with the declaration form in a sealed envelope. The designated officers will later dispatch the envelopes to the concerned election officer in such a way that it is received at least by 8 am on the counting day.
However, Joel Sebastian, based in Kingdom of Bahrain asks, “As an NRI, it's welcoming news from the MEA, as we have are able to cast our right to vote. It's a win for the citizens abroad and for democracy. But there can be concerns like receiving form 12 on the correct due time and returning it in the due time. What if any issues up come because time is the vital factor here?”