NRI Voting Rights

The Union government of India, on Monday, Jan 12, 2015 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.

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. Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath had said recently that the MEA was opposed to the idea of allowing NRIs to vote at embassies as it will be difficult to allow such an exercise because, in some countries, the NRI population could be equal to the local populace and it will be difficult to hold such an exercise at the embassy. “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. A high-level EC committee also 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 government told the court on Monday that it has approved e-ballot voting and proxy voting for NRIs, recommended by the Election Commission (EC) in a report, and it would have the process in place after amending the relevant laws. In e-ballot voting, a blank postal ballot paper is emailed to the voter, who has to then fill it and post it to their constituency. The EC said there is a very little risk of manipulation, rigging or violation of secrecy in this new system. Allowing NRIs to vote from abroad is most likely to make an impact in states like Kerala, which has 4 million people working overseas.

In 2010, the government had allowed NRIs voting rights, but the rules required them to be present in their constituency on the day of voting. This was challenged and the court had asked for a report from the EC. The EC examined several options for NRIs to cast their vote. It rejected the idea of casting 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.

 

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