Expats can now vote in Indian elections

Tuesday 13th January 2015 14:23 EST

Non-resident Indians (NRIs) will soon be able to cast their vote through electronic-ballots or through their nominees residing in India but will not be able to exercise their franchise through the novel method during the coming Delhi assembly polls.

The Union government on Monday informed the Supreme Court that it had accepted Election Commission's recommendation to allow NRIs to vote through e-ballot system or through proxy. The EC discarded other possibilities - postal ballot and internet voting - terming them fraught with the danger of manipulation.

After the Centre conveyed its acceptance of the EC recommendations on NRI voting, a bench of Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justice A K Sikri gave the Centre eight weeks to effect necessary amendments in the law to implement the EC suggestion.

NCP had proposed postal ballot for NRIs while BJP, BSP and CPI had opined that postal ballot might not be a viable option for NRIs. Congress was not in favour of e-ballot for NRIs. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for petitioner Shamsheer V P, pushed another plea - voting rights for migrant labourers who constituted nearly 30% of the total population and facilities to enable armed forces personnel posted in remote and forward areas to cast their votes. The bench sought the Centre's response on the application.

The EC examined several suggestions to enable NRIs to cast their vote and rejected the idea of allowing them to cast their votes at diplomatic missions abroad. "The committee is also of the view that internet voting is also not a feasible option until appropriate technology/information technology applications and all other vulnerabilities are addressed," the EC said.

Postal ballot was also ruled out. A high-level EC committee said, "E-postal ballot, where blank postal ballot paper is transferred electronically to NRI and returned by post by NRI can be considered to be employed after proofing, validation of the process and pilot implementation in one or two constituencies in elections to the legislative assemblies and then scale up to more assembly elections and finally parliamentary elections if found feasible, practicable and meeting the objectives of free and fair election.

"The committee recommends that the option of voting through proxy appointed by the overseas electors can be considered to be provided to NRIs. In order to cater to needs of all categories of NRIs, additional options of e-postal ballot and proxy voting can be made available depending upon the preference exercised by the NRI voter. In case NRI voter does not exercise any of these additional two options, then by default it will be deemed that overseas elector will cast his vote as per existing legal provisions and procedures at the polling station in India."

Describing the e-ballot procedure, the EC committee said the NRI wishing to vote through this procedure would have to send an application either electronically or physically to the returning officer six months before the expiry of the term of the House.

"The RO may then verify the particulars of the person and at the time of election, on satisfaction, send the postal ballot electronically after the same is finalized on the last date of withdrawal of candidature, which the NRI elector can access through a password that would be allotted to him. The elector downloads the postal ballot paper and then casts vote and posts is back to the RO after getting the declaration attested," it said.

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