The Election Commission of India has sent across a proposal to the Law Ministry and suggested that the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) should also be allowed to participate in Indian Elections through Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS). The Election Commission has also indicated to the Law Ministry that it is technically and administratively ready to implement the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS).

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The Election Commission stated that Section 62 of the Representation of the People Act,1951 provides the right to vote for every citizen. The implementation of this system for overseas voters would also boost India’s image as a democracy internationally. 

ETPBS would allow the NRI voters to participate in the upcoming assembly elections to be held in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry. Until now, according to the law, the NRI’s who are eligible for voting under the current election law can only cast their votes in person at their respective constituency in India. The current proposal from the Election Commission to amend the existing law would enable the NRI’S to cast their votes in the Indian Elections from their country of residence. An estimated 1.15 crore Indians are living abroad, and at least 60 lakh individuals are of eligible voting age.

As per the current law, the ETPBS is available only to service voters. Service voters are personnel involved in the election process. Thus, ETPBS is used to secure the votes from the service voters.

As per the postal ballot system, the postal ballots are dispatched electronically, and the votes are returned via ordinary mail. 

The Election Commission has stated that to bring the ETPBS facility to overseas voters, the Government of India would not require approval from Parliament. The new law can be implemented after the Government of India brings an amendment in the Conduct of Election Rules 1961.

The Election Commission has also systematized the procedure for postal ballot systems. The NRI’S who are interested in participating in the Indian Elections would have to inform their respective Returning Officers(RO) at least five days after the announcement of the Election Date. Post the information; the RO would dispatch the ballot paper electronically. The NRI voters would have to mark their preference on the printout of the ballot paper. The printouts have to be sent back along with a declaration attested by an officer appointed by India’s diplomatic or consular representative in the resident country of the NRI’s. However, the Election Commission has not made it clear if the NRI voters would have to send the ballot paper to India on their own through post or drop the ballot papers at the Indian Embassy.

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Five civil rights groups have submitted a proposal to the Election Commission of India to enable a postal ballot system for migrant residents in the country as it was noticed in the 2019 general election that over 29 crore Indians did not vote, even after being eligible to cast their votes. The number of absent voters constitutes nearly one-third of registered voters. 

It is estimated that in India, nearly 45.4 crore Indians are migrant residents and out of which at least 28 crore individuals would be legally eligible to vote but are unable to participate in the elections because it becomes impossible to move across states to cast their votes. This limitation impacts Indian Elections every year. 

Such proposals to improve the participation of voters have been made earlier to the Election Commission of India. In the year 2014, several requests were made to the Election Commission to improve participation in Elections. One such request to allow participation of the NRI community in the elections was made by Rajya Sabha MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal. The Ministry of External Affairs or MEA had raised strong reservations on the Postal Ballot System to the Election Commission by stating that the diplomatic missions do not have logistics to handle such a huge number of overseas electors. The MEA stated that conducting overseas elections may require additional permission from the host country, which could prove challenging in non-democratic countries. 

A proposal to allow proxy voting for NRI’s was also put forward. This system would require the NRI voters to select someone from their constituency to cast a vote on their behalf. 

In the year 2018, the Government of India also had begun to consider proxy voting for NRI’s seriously. The bill passed through Lok Sabha but got stuck at the Rajya Sabha due to the dissolution of the 16h Lok Sabha. 

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The recent proposal to the Law Ministry about the postal ballot system does not recognize the proxy voting system. The inclusion of the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) for both NRI’s and migrant residents would definitely result in more participation in the Indian Elections.