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Supreme Court clears decks to enable NRIs to vote during elections

Earlier, an EC panel had recommended allowing voting for the NRIs through proxy and e-postal ballot.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi |
Updated: January 12, 2015 7:37:36 pm
NRI voting, NRI vote, Supreme Court NRI vote, Delhi elections Supreme Court.

The decks are cleared for enabling the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to vote during elections in India.

The government on Monday informed the Supreme Court that it has accepted the Election Commission’s (EC) view that the option of voting through proxy or an e-postal ballot system could be considered for NRIs who want to cast their vote during elections in India.

It said that the proposal were accepted to the government in letter and spirit and that a committee had been set up to devise the modalities of its implementation.

The court urged the Centre to issue appropriate orders and amend necessary laws to have the proposal implemented at the earliest. It posted the matter after eight weeks.

Earlier, an EC panel had recommended allowing voting for the NRIs through proxy and e-postal ballot.

The poll panel had ruled out the possibility of allowing NRIs to vote through the Internet or at diplomatic missions abroad for the time being.

In a report submitted to the Supreme Court, the EC had said that “the option of voting through proxy appointed by overseas electors…” as well as “e-postal ballot, where blank postal ballot paper is transferred electronically to the NRI and returned by post” can be considered.

The EC report was submitted by a committee formed to look into the issue following a Supreme Court order.

According to the EC, the e-postal ballot system has almost no risk of manipulation, rigging or violation of secrecy.

The EC said the system can be initially tried in “one or two constituencies in elections to the legislative Assemblies”. It added that the system can then be “scaled up to more Assembly elections and finally Parliamentary elections if found feasible, practicable and meeting the objectives of free and fair elections”.

On proxy voting, the EC said that the facility of voting through an appointed person — ordinarily from the same constituency as the voter — is currently available to service voters belonging to the armed forces and paramilitary forces. The poll panel said that the “proxy voting facility would be a convenient, efficacious and doable method of providing voting facility to overseas electors”.

“Since the appointment of proxy can be made at any point of time, the issue of time constraint, the logistical issues of embassy and the related issue of host country permission is eliminated in this system,” the EC report stated.

During deliberations on the issue, the BJP had said that voting through proxy “could be considered as there would be no logistical problem involved in such a system”. The BSP, CPI and Congress were not in favour “as it can never be guaranteed that the proxy voter will vote as per the wishes of the actual voter”. They added that this system suffers from an inherent problem of “trust deficiency” and violates the principle of “secrecy of voting”.

After considering all opinions, the EC said that “proxy voting facility would be operationally the most simple and viable option”. On the issue of “trust”, the EC said, “It is expected that a person will appoint a proxy only when there is trust in the proxy.”

The EC, however, added that proxy voting could be considered as an option with the conditions that only one person acts as the proxy for only one overseas elector, that the proxy is enrolled as a voter in the same constituency as the overseas elector and that the appointment of a proxy shall be valid till the time it is revoked by the elector.

Noting that only a few countries have allowed external voters to cast their votes electronically, the EC, pointing to threats such as viruses, spyware and malware, said that “like with every aspect of new technology, the Internet comes with potential hazards if careful use is not maintained”.

The court had issued directives to the EC while hearing a bunch of PILs seeking a way to do away with the need for NRIs to remain physically present in the constituency to cast their vote. The petition, argued by counsel Haris Beeran, said it is discriminatory and violates their fundamental rights.

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