Non-resident Indians (NRIs), who under the current election laws must cast their vote in person at their respective constituencies in India, may soon get to vote remotely in an Indian election, from their country of residence.

Election Commission, in a proposal sent to the law ministry last week, has suggested that NRIs be allowed to vote through electronically-transmitted postal ballot system (ETPBS), a facility already extended to service voters that include members of the Armed forces and para-military forces and government employees serving abroad.

EC, in the November 27 letter addressed to the law secretary, proposed that necessary amendments be made in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, “at the earliest” to enable the Indian diaspora to vote through postal ballot, adding that it is “technically and administratively ready to extend this facility in general elections to legislative assemblies of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry”. Elections in the five states are due in May next year.

There are around 1.17 lakh NRIs registered as voters in the electoral rolls.

EC in its letter stated that it has been receiving several representations from the Indian diaspora to facilitate voting through postal ballot 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 too, they cannot leave their country of residence owing to compulsions like employment, education or other engagements. The protocols associated with Covid-19, have further compounded the problem, it added.

As per EC proposal, an NRI may be issued a postal ballot electronically after he intimates his wish to vote through Form 12 to the returning officer, which must be received at least five days after notification of election.

The duly filled up postal ballot – attested by an officer to be appointed by the diplomatic or consular representative of India in the country where the overseas elector is resident -- must be returned by post to the returning officer of the NRI’s constituency in India such that it is received latest by 8 a.m. on the counting day.

“We estimate around a two-week window for the NRI to return the postal ballot,” an EC officer told TOI adding that the system is already being followed for voting by the staff of the missions/consulates abroad.

“Only, after NRIs are allowed this facility, the volumes of such postal ballots being returned will be much larger,” said the officer. 

Sourced from The Time of India