Voting by NRIs in Indian elections a reality soon?

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New Delhi, May 20: Overseas Indians may have moved a step closer to casting their franchise in Indian elections by proxy or e-ballot as the Election Commission (EC) has come out with a legal framework for it.

An expert committee in the EC working on the issue has forwarded the legal framework to the Law Ministry to amend electoral laws to allow overseas Indians use proxy voting and e ballot facility.

election-commission

"We have framed the law and it is with the Law Ministry. We understand it is under active consideration. Which means it is in fairly advanced (stage)," Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi told PTI in an interview.

He said data shows that only 10 to 12,000 NRIs have voted because they don't want to spend dollars to come back to vote. "Many come, but many of them don't come," he said.

While NRIs are free to cast their votes in constituencies they are registered, as per the proposal they would also be allowed to use the option of proxy, which as of now is only available to service personnel.

Another option would be to use postal ballot delivered to them by electronic means to cast their vote. This would mean amending the current laws governing right to vote.

"From the day the nomination process ends till the day of the voting we have 14 days. In this we have to print the postal ballot and send it, and the voter has to return it. To cut this time, the committee recommended sending it by electronic means," Zaidi said.

Law Ministry sources said the voters will be provided with a 'one time password' to download the ballot paper. They will have to fill it up and post it to the election authorities.

"A suggestion made it that the voter can post the ballot to the nearest Indian mission or consulate. It will be then the duty of the mission to send it to either the MEA in New Delhi or Election Commission through diplomatic bag. The authorities in India can send the ballot to the concerned returning officer," explained a senior Law Ministry official.

The sources said if overseas voters have to spend "more than reasonable amount of money" to post or courier their ballot to India, then it will be a costly affair and would go against the principle of 'free and fair election'.

Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 dealing with the definition of 'ordinary citizen' and section 60 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 dealing with 'Special procedure for voting by certain classes of persons' will have to be amended for the purpose.

Zaidi said a committee comprising officials from the EC, Law Ministry and the MEA had gathered opinions from all sections before submitting a report to the Supreme Court last year. On the directions of the court another expert panel has now prepared the legal framework.

The plan to amend the law is the result of a public interest litigation filed in SC against the "inherent inequality" created by Section 20(A) of the Representation of the Peoples (RP) Act which insists on the physical presence of an NRI in his local constituency at the time of voting.

According to EC website, after enrolment, an overseas elector will be able to cast his or her vote in an election in the constituency, in person, at the polling station provided for the part where he is registered as an overseas elector.

According to the provisions of the RP Act, a person who is a citizen of India and who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country and is otherwise eligible to be registered as a voter and who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India owing to employment, education or otherwise is eligible to be registered as a voter in the constituency in which his place of residence in India, as mentioned in his passport, is located.

PTI

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