In a major development, the Election Commission (EC) has proposed to the central government to let Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) exercise their franchise by using postal ballots. In the next year, India will be witnessing assembly elections in the states of Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Last week, the EC sent a proposal to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, informing them that it is prepared from both technical and administrative standpoints to offer the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to voters living abroad ahead of the assembly elections.
In states like Kerala and Punjab, most voters are residing abroad, and to vote, these expats must fly down to constituencies where they are registered and exercise their franchise. With the current Covid-19 situation and other restrictions, flying down to vote doesn’t seem feasible at all.
In order to vote using postal ballots, the NRI voter must contact the Returning Officer (RO) within five days of the election notification being issued. The RO will then dispatch the ballot paper via email to the voter. The voter must print the ballot, cast their vote and return it to the RO after it has been attested by an officer present at the Indian Embassy in the country where the NRI is residing.
Currently, only service members are allowed to vote using postal ballots.
To allow the NRIs to use the postal ballots service, the Centre does not need the parliament’s nod to amend the Conduct of Election Rules – 1961.
In 2018, the Lok Sabha had passed the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill – 2017. This bill would amend the Representation of People Act – 1951 and permit ‘proxy voting’ for NRIs to vote in the elections. While the bill awaited Rajya Sabha’s nod, it expired with the 16th Lok Sabha’s dissolving on June 3, 2019. It must be noted that the EC has only proposed the electronic postal ballot voting to the Law Ministry and not proxy voting.