India has not had an absentee ballot system until now. Section 19 of ‘The Representation of the People Act’ allows a person to register to vote if he or she is above 18 years of age and is an ordinary resident of the constituency i.e. the current address for 6 months or longer. Section 20 of the Act disqualifies a non-resident Indian from getting his/her name registered in the electoral roll. Consequently, it also prevents an NRI from casting vote in elections.
The Representation of the People Bill (Amendment) was passed in 2010 to allow the NRIs to vote in the elections. However the process was troublesome as overseas citizens were required to first fill out a form, get it certified by Indian Foreign Service officer in the country where they live, send it and other documents to the voter registration office close to the official residence in India, and then travel all the way to India to be present personally to vote.
Bihar election – Bihar may be the first state to allow NRI voting?
Out of roughly one crore Indians living overseas, of which about 60 lakh are of eligible age, only a few thousand got registered and barely anyone came to India to cast the vote.
The provision of voting through proxy exists for the members of the armed forces.
Move to benefit one crore Indians living overseas…
Several civic society organizations have asked the government to amend the RPA act to allow NRI’s to cast the vote through an absentee ballot system.
History might be in the making as Bihar elections brace themselves to become the first state to allow non-resident Indians to cast their vote in assembly elections when it goes to poll in late 2015.
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NRI Voting in Bihar election
To help NRI voting in the Bihar elections polls through proxy or e-postal ballot, the Election Commission is working with the law ministry on a pilot project.
The central Law Ministry and the Election Commission may give final shape to the project to allow NRIs to cast their vote in the Bihar election from overseas.
According to the Election commission, Bihar has around 1000 NRIs from different constituencies. The EC will go for a few areas in the beginning to test the pilot project and allow Bihar NRIs to cast their ballot. If the plan gets time for pre-testing, then the EC might allow NRIs from all of Bihar.
The main target of this project is to finally allow all NRIs to cast their votes from overseas in the 2019 parliamentary election.
Different methods for NRI voting
The EC and the Law Ministry have decided whether to go for online e-portal voting or the proxy vote system.
- The online e-postal voting option will use the snail mail approach.
- The NRI voter will have to get himself registered online through which he will receive a secured password.
- With the help of the password, he will be able to download and print the required ballot paper.
- After casting the vote on the printed ballot paper, he will have to self-attest it and send the paper back to the returning officer by snail-mail within a fixed period of time. given
- The proxy voting system will allow a NRI voter to cast ballot through a nominee living in India.
If the EC is able to implement the project in Bihar elections with success, it would be a remarkable change in the electoral numbers. Since almost a crore of Indians are settled abroad particularly from states such as Punjab, Kerala and Gujarat, the decision to involve them in the electoral process can affect their outcome very much.
Both the EC and Law Ministry are working overtime to get the project ready as Bihar elections is likely to be held before November 29.
The project can be cleared after some amendments in ‘The Representation of People Act’. The necessary amendments in ‘The Representation of People Act’ are expected to be made by the monsoon session of the Parliament so that it can be tested in Bihar elections.
All of this comes with the Centre accepting the poll panel’s recommendations, which were submitted to the Supreme Court about NRI voting in early 2015.
The EC has made a technical committee headed by Rajat Moona of C-DAC, the government’s R&D arm in advanced computing, comprising other experts, to develop a software that will allow the EC to dispatch the ballot paper to NRI voters online. The software is ‘almost ready’ and currently undergoing a ‘security audit’.
If the experiment proves to be successful in Bihar elections, the EC will scale it up to the other elections and finally, it will cover the whole country during the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
What do you think? Will this move help more voters cast their votes or will it result in more problems, during elections? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.