India’s MEA Ministry OKs e-Ballots for NRIs

New Delhi: The ministry of external affairs (MEA) has written to the Election Commission favouring its recent proposal to allow non-resident Indians (NRIs) to vote remotely through electronically-transmitted postal ballot system (ETPBS) from their country of residence. However, it has suggested that the poll body hold consultations with all stakeholders before rolling out the facility.

NRIs, as per the current election laws, must cast their vote in person at their respective constituencies in India.

Sources in EC indicated that the poll panel will, as indicated by MEA, start consultations soon with NRI associations and various ministries and departments that will be involved in the exercise.

The ETPBS facility is already extended to service voters that include members of the Armed forces and para-military forces as well as government employees serving abroad.

EC had, in its November 27 letter addressed to the law secretary, proposed that necessary amendments be made in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, “at the earliest” to enable the Indian diaspora to vote through postal ballot, adding that it is “technically and administratively ready to extend this facility in general elections to legislative assemblies of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry” due in April-May.

There are around 1.17 lakh NRIs registered as voters in the electoral rolls. EC in its letter stated that it has been receiving several representations from the Indian diaspora to facilitate voting through postal ballot since such overseas electors are not in a position to be present in their polling area as travelling to India for this purpose is a costly affair and otherwise too, they cannot leave their country of residence owing to compulsions like employment, education or other engagements. The protocols associated with Covid-19, have further compounded the problem, it added.

As per EC proposal, an NRI may be issued a postal ballot electronically after he intimates his wish to vote through Form 12 to the returning officer, which must be received at least five days after notification of election. The duly filled up postal ballot – attested by an officer to be appointed by the diplomatic or consular representative of India in the country where the overseas elector is resident — must be returned by post to the returning officer of the NRI’s constituency in India such that it is received latest by 8 am on the counting day. The Ministry of External Affairs wrote to the EC favouring its proposal.

However the MEA wants the EC to hold consultations with stakeholders before coming to a final conclusion. This would mean that the EC would now hold consultations with NRI associations, the various ministries and departments that would be involved in the process. MEA favours EC’s proposal to give NRIs e-ballots Last month the Election Commission of India approached the government to permit Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to cast their votes through postal ballots. Election Commission tweaks postal ballot procedure for upcoming polls The EC told the Law Ministry that it is technically and administratively ready to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System to NRI voters for the next elections in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu. Currently the NRIs can only cast their votes in their respective constituencies. Rough estimates suggest that there are around 1 crore Indians settled abroad of which 60 lakh are of an eligible voting age.