EC proposes postal ballot for NRIs, asks government to amend law at earliest


The Election Commission (EC) has written to the government seeking extension of voting through postal ballots to non-resident Indians (NRIs) for the assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. In a letter to the Union law ministry, the EC cited a successful implementation of Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) for service voters and added it is confident that the facility can also be extended to overseas electors.

After an amendment in Rule 23 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, the Commission has now implemented Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (EPTBS) for service voters,” the letter said. “This system is completely secure and functioning satisfactorily.”

Voters living outside India can currently vote only in their respective constituencies. There are around 12.6 million Indian passport holders, who ordinarily reside in over 200 countries, according to the government.

Lok Sabha in October 2018 passed a bill to allow NRIs to vote through proxies. The bill lapsed pending approval by the Rajya Sabha before the dissolution of the lower House.

The EC, in its letter, a copy of which HT has seen, said it has received several representations from the Indian diaspora to facilitate voting through postal ballots. It added overseas electors are not in a position to be present in their polling areas as travelling to India for this purpose is a costly affair. EC said job compulsions have kept the voters from travelling for voting. It added the problem has been further compounded due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A panel formed in 2014 to assess the matter proposed an amendment to section 60 of the Representation of People’s Act to allow NRIs to vote via postal ballots or through proxies. The proposal is pending before the law ministry and will require parliamentary approval.

EC requested the government to make necessary amendments at the earliest. “[The extension of the facility to NRIs] 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.”

Former chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi said the problem remains the differentiation between the domestic and international migrants. “The problem with postal ballots for NRIs is that we cannot pick and choose between domestic and international migrants. How can those, who migrate from Bihar to Delhi for work, not be allowed but those moving from Delhi to the US [be allowed to vote via postal ballots]?”