Election Commission is ready to allow postal ballots for NRIs

Overseas Indians are most likely to vote in the coming assembly election. The Election Commission (EC) has informed the government that it was “technically and administratively ready” to arrange the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to NRI voters for elections next year in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Under ETPBS, which is currently only available to service voters, the postal ballot is dispatched electronically and returned via ordinary mail. To extend this facility to overseas voters, the government only needs to amend the Conduct of Election Rules 1961. It doesn’t require Parliament’s nod, the New Indian Express Reported.

Out of the 1 crore over seas Indians, about 60 lakh are eligible to vote. It is sure they can impact the election especially in states such as Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala, the report said.

According to the Commission’s proposal received by the Law Ministry, any NRI interested in voting through the postal ballot in an election will have to inform the Returning Officer (RO) at least five days after the notification of the election. On receiving such information, the RO will dispatch the ballot paper electronically. The NRI voters will mark their preference on the ballot printouts and send it back along with a declaration attested by an officer appointed by the diplomatic or consular representative of India in the country where the NRI is resident.

It’s not clear, at this moment, if the voter will return the ballot paper herself through ordinary post or drop it off at the Indian Embassy, which may then segregate the envelopes constituency-wise and send them to the Chief Electoral Officer of the state concerned for onward transmission to the RO, the New Indian Express report said.

The MEA had said that “diplomatic missions do not have the logistical wherewithal to handle attestation for a large number of overseas electors” and that they would have to seek the permission of the host country for organising such activity, which may be difficult in non-democratic countries.
According to the report, only Indian National congress supports the move. According to the Bahujan Samaj Party, Bhartiya Janata Party and Communist Party of India, postal ballots were not a viable option due to time constraint, the report said.

Currently, overseas voters can only cast their votes in their respective constituencies.
Last year, the bill seeking permission to allow ETPBS to NRIs failed in the 16th Lok Sabha.