For long, non-resident Indians (NRIs) holding Indian passports have been left out of the electoral process because they had to travel back to their country to cast their votes. Not any longer. India’s Election Commission is ensuring a system where voters can register themselves first and then have an e-ballot box to enable them exercise their franchise.
Announcing this here in Melbourne, India’s Chief Election Commissioner Dr Nasim Zaidi said the Commission is undertaking the task of extending the voting rights of non-resident Indians. “Our aim is to talk to those NRIs who have already registered, who are otherwise eligible to be registered but are not registered and those who are less than 18 years of age but are prospective NRI voters.”
With the motto ‘No voter to be left behind’, the Commission has been working on the principle of voter centric activities and the principle of inclusiveness. “We want everyone to be a part of our electoral democracy. We want to spread the message to NRIs that they need to be a part of the process of the election of their representatives. Many countries have already taken external voting process, but in our country we are first seeking to bring the NRI within our electoral process.”
Briefing on the legal provisions, Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha said, “From 2010 onwards a new section has been added in the Representation of People‘s Act 1940. This section provides that every citizen of India whose name is not included in the electoral role and who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country and who is away from the place of residence shall be entitled to add his/her name registered in the electoral role in his home constituency under Rule 8/A.
“Any person in the above described category can fill a form 6A in person at the electoral registration office when he/she goes to India. But one can also apply by post from here or apply directly online.”
A national voter’s service portal, which is an integrated portal for voters, has been developed for this purpose. The portal also allows one to change address. or modify other details.
To be a part of the electoral process, one has to register first. The Election Commission has started a new comprehensive campaign and program for registration of overseas electorate.
Zaidi expressed happiness that a large number of people came and displayed their enthusiasm to register in Canberra. “We are now encouraging through different methods that at least those who are Indians and living abroad must register.”
After registration, citizens will have the opportunity to vote via an electronic portal family from here itself without having to travel to India. “To get the electronic postal ballot in place, there is some amendment of law and the law ministry is actively considering the changes, which will come through very soon,” Sinha said.
An online campaign will be run to highlight the importance of voting. “We have a voter education and electoral participation program that we would to design specially for NRIs also. You as a valuable member of the community and the country must strive for getting this right,” Sinha urged, adding, “We hope Australia will become a very good model where anybody who is an Indian passport holder will be able to register and after that vote.”
Zaidi said the commission has observed that the number of NRIs registered as voters is rather low. “We have less than 30,000 residents registered as voters out of the several millions. And that is because one of the problems under the current law is they are required to go back to their home constituencies at the time of election to cast their vote.”
With five assembly elections coming up next year in the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, the Commission will undertake an analysis of how many NRIs are from these states and focus on registering them, Zaidi said.
At the moment, the Commission is looking at how to address setting up an electronic postal ballot facility. But with the time gap between the finalisation of names of candidates and the date of polling being only 14 days, the challenge is lies in ensuring that the ballots are sent to the NRIs on time by the fastest means.
“We will introduce e-postal ballot and transfer it within two days after finalisation of candidates through various security measures including a secured password. Voters will have to express their option of whether they want to cast vote through postal ballot or by mail. We are also exploring at the ministry level whether we can place some boxes at the embassies and consulates.” Zaid said.
The legislation on this is awaited but Zaid hoped this would be activated before the coming assembly elections in 2017.
“Further, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences will launch online surveys to assess voters’ level of knowledge, awareness, practices and beliefs in the electoral democracy and then design focussed interventions, different from the previous ones which were a little straight forward.
“Embassies and consulates will hold special camps for registration of NRIs and provide publicity material. There are a lot of things underway and we should be able to launch this process,” Zaidi said. (TIW)