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Explained: NRIs could soon be able to vote via post. Here’s the process

5th December, 2020 Polity

Context: Election Commission (EC) approached the Law Ministry to permit NRIs to cast their votes from overseas through postal ballots.

  • The EC told the government it had received representations from the Indian diaspora about facilitating voting through postal votes since travelling to India only for this purpose is a “costly affair”.
  • The Commission informed the government that it is “technically and administratively ready” to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to voters abroad for elections next year in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

What is the current process of voting for Indian citizens living abroad?

  • An NRI can vote in the constituency in which her place of residence, as mentioned in the passport, is located.
  • She can only vote in person and will have to produce her passport in original at the polling station for establishing identity.
  • Voting rights for NRIs were introduced only in 2011, through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1950.

What is current of strength of NRI voters?

  • According to a UN report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world at 16 million people.
  • Registration of NRI voters, has been very low: a little over one lakh overseas Indians registered as voters in India, according to the EC.

If approved, how will voting by postal ballots work for NRIs?

  • According to the EC proposal, any NRI interested in voting through the postal ballot in an election will have to inform the Returning Officer (RO) not later than five days after the notification of the election.
  • On receiving such information, the RO will dispatch the ballot paper electronically.
  • The NRI voters will download the ballot paper, mark their preference on the printout and send it back along with a declaration attested by an officer appointed by the diplomatic or consular representative of India in the country where the NRI is resident.
  • It’s not clear, at this moment, if the voter will return the ballot paper herself through ordinary post or drop it off at the Indian Embassy, which may then segregate the envelopes constituency-wise and send them to the Chief Electoral Officer of the state concerned for forwarding to the RO.

How and when did the proposal originate?

  • The EC began to look for options to enable NRIs to vote from overseas after it received several requests and three writ petitions were filed by NRIs in the Supreme Court in 2013 and 2014.
  • A 12-member committee was set up after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to study mainly three options — voting by post, voting at an Indian mission abroad and online voting.
  • In 2015, the panel recommended that NRIs should be given the “additional alternative options of e-postal ballot and proxy voting”, apart from voting in person.
  • Under proxy voting, a registered elector can delegate his voting power to a representative. The Law Ministry accepted the recommendation on proxy voting.

Can expatriates of other countries vote in elections in their home countries?

  • Many countries allow expatriates to vote, but the eligibility criteria and the voting procedure differ from one nation to another.
  • For instance, a British citizen living abroad can register as an overseas voter for up to 15 years after leaving the UK, as long as he is a British or Irish citizen and was a registered voter in the UK in the last 15 years.
  • American expatriates enjoy voting rights in the US irrespective of how long they have been living abroad. They can vote for federal office candidates in the primary and general elections.