Online Voting for Overseas Citizens – UPSC GS2

Context: Government is looking into the possibility of allowing non-resident Indians to vote online.
Current procedure for voting of overseas voters:
  • Prior to 2010, an Indian citizen who was an eligible voter and had lived in another country for more than six months could not vote in elections.
  • After the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, eligible NRIs who had been away for more than six months were allowed to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they had been enrolled as an overseas elector.
  • Overseas Indian citizens have the same voting rights as resident Indian citizens in the constituency where they live.
  • In the case of overseas voters, their passport address is used to determine their place of ordinary residence and the constituency in which they should register.
  • Concerns of overseas voters:
    • Only a small percentage of eligible overseas residents registered to vote or showed up to vote.
    • The requirement that eligible voters visit the polling station in person has deterred them from exercising their right to vote.
Recommendations by Election Commission of India (ECI):
  • In November 2020, the Election Commission of India (ECI) wrote to the Law Ministry, requesting that eligible NRIs be allowed to vote by postal ballot in the various State Assembly elections scheduled for 2021.
  • In order to allow this facility, the ECI proposed amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
  • The postal ballots were to be sent to NRIs electronically, and they were to return the ballots via post after selecting their candidate.
  • NRI voters who want to vote through Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) must notify the returning officer at least five days after the election is announced.
  • The ballot will then be sent electronically via the ETPBS by the returning officer.
  • The senior officer would be appointed by the Indian diplomatic or consular representative in the NRI’s resident country, except in this case.
  • In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the ETPBS method resulted in a higher turnout among service voters.
  • With citizens increasingly moving between countries for work, the postal ballot method has been recognised as a means of allowing overseas voters to exercise their right to vote.
  • However, there must be certain conditions that are normally associated with time spent abroad or work done abroad.
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