The Election Commission of India has approached the government to permit Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to cast their votes through postal ballots.
The EC told the Law Ministry that it is technically and administratively ready to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System to NRI voters for the next elections in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu.
Currently the NRIs can only cast their votes in their respective constituencies. Rough estimates suggest that there are around 1 crore Indians settled abroad of which 60 lakh are of eligible voting age.
The Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System is currently available only to service voters. Under this the postal ballot is dispatched electronically and returned via ordinary mail.
In order to extend this facility to overseas voters, the government needs to amend the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 and the same would not need the nod of Parliament.
Once amended, any NRI interested in voting through the postal ballot will have to inform a returning officer at least five days after the notification is issued. The RO would dispatch the ballot paper electronically and then the NRI voter can mark their preference and send it back along with a declaration attested by an officer appointed by the diplomatic or consular representative of India the country where the NRI is residing.
It is not clear right now if the voter will return the ballot paper himself through ordinary post or drop it at the Indian Embassy, which may then segregate the envelopes constituency-wise and send them to the chief electoral officer of the state for onward transmission to the RO.
It was in 2014 that the EC took up the proposal to permit NRI voters to cast their votes after it received several requests, including one from Rajya Sabha MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal and the Ministry of Overseas Affairs.
The Ministry of External Affairs had expressed strong reservations over attesting the declaration that voters will have to send along with their marked ballot papers. “Diplomatic missions do not have the logistical wherewithal to handle attestation for a large number of overseas electors,” said the MEA. It also said it would have to seek the permission of the host country for organizing such activity, which may be difficult in non-democratic countries.
Among political parties only NCP has expressed full support to the EC for postal voting for NRIs. The BSP, BJP and CPI, postal ballots were not a viable option due to time constraint. The Congress was against sending the postal ballot paper electronically.
The EC in 2015 wrote to the government proposing proxy voting for Indians residing abroad. In 2018, the government tried to grant proxy voting rights to overseas electors through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha and was awaiting Rajya Sabha’s nod, when lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.