TN elections 2021: EC to hold workshop on electronic postal ballot
Chennai, Jan 06: The external affairs ministry has suggested to the Election Commission to hold a workshop for its missions in select countries including the US and the UK on the proposed electronic postal ballot facility for overseas Indian electors in preparation for implementing the system.
Sources in the poll panel said the proposed workshop -- also to be organised for missions in Australia and the UAE -- would be in the form of a webinar and its modalities would be worked out in due course.
The MEA made this suggestion in a recent correspondence with the Election Commission.
The Commission would also speak with various NRI associations and ministries which would be involved in the roll-out of the proposed facility which has found support in the MEA, the sources said.
On November 27 last year, the EC had proposed to the government to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) facility, so far available to service voters, to eligible overseas Indian voters.
In a letter to the legislative secretary in the Law Ministry, the Commission said that with the successful execution of ETPBS in case of service voters, it is now "confident" that the facility can also be extended to the overseas electors.
"The Commission is technically and administratively ready to extend this facility in general elections to legislative assemblies of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry," the poll panel said.
Elections in these states are due sometime in April-May.
The EC said it has been receiving several representations from Indian diaspora abroad to facilitate voting through postal ballots since such overseas electors are not in a position to be present in their polling area as travelling to India for this purpose is a costly affair and otherwise also they cannot leave the country of their residence owing to specific compulsions of employment, education or other engagements.
"Due to protocols associated with Covid-19, the problem further gets compounded," the letter to the Law Ministry said.
The Commission observed that Section 62 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 envisages the right to vote for every citizen registered in the electoral roll who is not subject to disqualification for voting.
"Therefore, it is necessary to explore all avenues to enable exercise of a franchise by all eligible electors," it said.
As of now, overseas Indians are free to cast their votes in the constituencies they are registered.
Unofficial data with the EC shows that only 10,000-12,000 overseas voters have exercised their franchise because they do not want to spend foreign currency to come to India and vote.
Under ETPBS, the postal ballot is sent electronically to a service voter who can download it and then use a specific envelope to send it back to the returning officer of his constituency.
The postal ballot should reach the returning officer by 8.00 am on the day of the counting. Counting of votes begins with the counting of postal ballots at 8.00 am.
Personnel of armed forces posted outside their constituencies in forward areas, personnel of central armed police forces posted outside their constituencies, state police personnel posted on poll duty and embassy staff are considered as service voters.
The EC has suggested amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 to extend ETPBS for overseas electors. The rules were amended in October 2016 to allow service voters to use ETPBS.
The ETPBS has nearly halved the time in sending and receiving postal ballots from far-flung areas.
The Conduct of Election Rules was also changed to allow those who are 80 years of age or above and those with disabilities to use the postal ballot to cast vote. The same facility was extended to COVID-19 patients. But this postal ballot facility is different from ETPBS.
For overseas electors, EC has said the voter will have to intimate the returning officer that he or she wants to use the postal ballot. The returning officer will then electronically transmit the ballot paper to the voter by means specified by the EC.
The Commission has requested the government to make necessary amendments at the earliest "which will go a long way in not only facilitating the exercise of the right of overseas electors but also further boosting the image of the country internationally."
But the government is yet to take a decision on allowing the use of postal ballots for eligible overseas Indians to cast their votes as the move will need wider consultations with all stakeholders before a final call is taken, sources have said.
They also said that the Election Commission's proposal to amend election rules to allow the use of postal ballot by overseas Indians, whose names figure in electoral rolls in India, is still at a bureaucratic level and is yet to be discussed with the political executive.
A bill to extend the facility of proxy voting to overseas Indians had lapsed following the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha in 2019.
The bill had proposed that overseas Indians, who are entitled to vote in India, can appoint a proxy voter to cast the ballot on their behalf.
An expert committee of the Election Commission, working on the issue, had in 2015 forwarded the legal framework to the Law Ministry to amend the electoral laws to allow the overseas Indians to use proxy voting.
The bill said the necessary provision of coming to India to cast a ballot caused hardship for overseas electors.