Electronically-Transmitted Postal Ballots for Non-Resident Indians

Context: During an interaction, the Chief Election Commissioner said the time had come for the Election Commission to facilitate postal voting for Non-Resident Indians.
Probable Question: Q. What is the current status and feasibility of implementing electronically-transmitted postal ballots for non-resident Indians (NRIs)?
  • The Election Commission began to look for options to enable NRIs to vote from overseas after it received three writ petitions filed by NRIs in the Supreme Court in 2013 and 2014.
  • A 12-member committee was set up after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to study mainly three options — voting by post, voting at an Indian mission abroad and online voting.
  • The committee ruled out online polling as it felt this could compromise “secrecy of voting”. It also shot down the proposal to vote at Indian missions abroad as they do not have adequate resources.
  • In 2015, the panel finally recommended that NRIs should be given the “additional alternative options of e-postal ballot and proxy voting”, apart from voting in person.
  • Under proxy voting, a registered elector can delegate his voting power to a representative. The Law Ministry accepted the recommendation on proxy voting.
About Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS):
  • ETPBS was introduced in 2016 to allow service voters to vote in elections.
  • Under this system, registered service voters are sent postal ballots electronically, which they can download and mark their votes.
  • They then send the ballot to the returning officer of the constituency via ordinary mail, along with an attested declaration form signed in the presence of an appointed senior officer.
  • ETPBS is a fully secured system, having two security layers.
  • Secrecy of voting is maintained through the use of OTP and PIN and no duplication of casted ETPB is possible due to the unique QR Code in the portal.
  • Both ETPBS and proxy voting are currently available to only service voters, like those in the armed forces or diplomatic missions.
Voting Process for NRIs:
  • The right to vote for NRIs was introduced in 2011 through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1950.
  • Currently, NRIs or overseas Indian voters can register as overseas electors with the Election Commission of India (ECI) if they haven’t acquired citizenship in another country.
  • To vote, an NRI must reside in a constituency and provide their passport as proof.
Challenges associated with electronically-transmitted postal ballots for NRIs:
  • Security Concerns: There is a risk of interception or tampering during the transmission process, potentially compromising the confidentiality and accuracy of the votes.
  • Authentication and Verification: Establishing robust systems to authenticate the identity of voters and prevent fraudulent activities is crucial to maintain the integrity of the electoral process.
  • Privacy and Data Protection: Electronic transmission of postal ballots involves the collection and processing of personal data of NRIs. Safeguarding this data and complying with privacy regulations can be complex, particularly when transmitting ballots across different jurisdictions with varying data protection laws.
  • Technological Infrastructure: Implementing a reliable and secure technological infrastructure capable of handling the transmission of postal ballots to NRIs worldwide is a significant challenge.
  • Accessibility and Digital Divide: Access to technology and internet connectivity may pose barriers to NRIs who want to cast their votes electronically.
Benefits Associated with Electronically-Transmitted Postal Ballots for NRIs:
  • Increased voter participation: NRIs often face logistical challenges in physically returning to their home countries to cast their votes.
  • Convenience and accessibility: Electronic transmission of postal ballots allows NRIs to participate in the electoral process conveniently.
  • Timely receipt and return of ballots: Electronic transmission of postal ballots ensures that NRIs receive their voting materials in a timely manner, reducing the risk of delays or loss associated with traditional postal services.
  • Reduction in administrative burden: Adopting electronically-transmitted postal ballots can streamline the administrative process for election authorities.
Estimated Overseas Voter Count:
  • As of January 1, 2023, there were over 1.15 lakh overseas voters, with roughly 25,000 of them flying to India to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
  • According to a UN report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world at 16 million people.
  • Registration of NRI voters, in comparison, has been very low: a little over one lakh overseas Indian registered as voters in India, according to the EC.
Significance of ETPBS:
  • ETPBS will help in realising the Election Commission of India’s motto of “no voter to be left behind”.
  • It has empowered and ensured all eligible service electors with their constitutional power to vote while performing their duty for the nation.
News Source: The Indian Express 

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