EC Proposes Allowing NRIs From Non-Gulf Countries to Vote by Post

NRI electors from Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc., will be excluded from this facility.

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Politics
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The Election Commission has proposed to extend postal ballot services for eligible NRI voters in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France and South Africa.

However, the exclusion of overseas electors from the Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc., from availing this facility is raising eyebrows.

Earlier in November, the EC had written to the Law Ministry to expedite the amendment to the People’s Representation Act that will extend the postal ballot facility to overseas electors for the upcoming Assembly elections in Puducherry and in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu.

While some are speculating that it is an attempt to block non-BJP votes, according The Indian Express, Gulf countries have been excluded from the proposed pilot given the MEA’s reservations about seeking permissions for elections in non-democratic countries which may not be approved.

Who is an eligible NRI voter?

The EC considers any citizen of India living outside the country owing to employment, education etc, who has not acquired citizenship of any other country as eligible to be registered as a voter.

According to The Indian Express, there are currently 1.18 lakh NRIs are registered as voters in India, out of a diaspora population that was in 2015 estimated to be 16 million strong.

If the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System - which is currently made available to those in the defence services - is extended to Indians overseas, the EC said it would boost the “image of the country internationally”.

As per data provided in a report on The Indian Express, about 89,000 NRI voters are registered to vote in Kerala, followed by roughly 7,500 in Andhra Pradesh, 5,500 in Maharashtra, 4,500 in Karnataka , 3,200 in Tamil Nadu and 2,500 in Telangana. These votes could make a difference in the electoral outcomes of the respective states.

How will postal ballots be cast by NRIs?

As per the EC website, eligible voters would first have to fill an online form along with submitting requisite identity and address proofs, or get hard copies of such forms from the Indian Missions.

The form can then be submitted in person to the Electoral Registration Officer or by mail with self-attested documents.

After submission, a Booth Level Officer will be visiting residences of the eligible voter to verify the copies of documents, or alternatively, the documents will be sent for verification to the concerned Indian Mission.

Finally, voters will be notified by mail or SMS if they are deemed eligible. Electoral rolls will also be available on the website of the Chief Electoral Officer.

Are there any concerns regarding this move?

A concern regarding the EC’s move was raised by CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury earlier in December. In a report on Hindustan Times, Yechury had said that this exercise could have scope for large-scale manipulation, unless polling stations were set up abroad.

HT quoted Yechury as saying, “In the Gulf countries especially, many Indians are taken by managers who even impound their passports. The people working there will be under immense pressure, their postal ballots can easily be manipulated and sold for profit.”

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