Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

How, why Bill proposes to let NRIs nominate proxies to vote on their behalf

Why in news?

  • Recently, Lok Sabha passed a Bill that proposes to allow non-resident Indians to use proxies to cast votes on their behalf in Indian elections.

 

What proxy voting means?

  • Voting in an Indian election can be done in three ways i.e. in person, by post and through a proxy.
    • Under proxy voting, a registered elector can delegate his voting power to a representative.

 

When was proxy voting first introduced in India?

  • This was introduced in 2003 for elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies, but on a limited scale.

 

Who are at present eligible for the proxy voting and how it is done?

  • Only a “classified service voter”– By definition that includes members of the armed forces, BSF, CRPF, CISF, General Engineering Reserve Force and Border Road Organisation. They are allowed to nominate a proxy to cast vote on his behalf in his absence. A classified service voter can also vote by postal ballot.
  • A classified service voter belonging to the armed forces or a paramilitary force can appoint a proxy as long as the proxy, too, is a registered voter in the same constituency.
  • The proxy is appointed through Form 13F signed by the classified service voter.
  • The form has to be submitted to the returning officer of the seat before the nomination of candidates closes. The proxy will continue to represent the service voter for all polls until the service or the appointment is revoked.

 

Background

  • The Election Commission decided to look for options to enable NRIs to vote from overseas after it received several requests and three writ petitions were filed by NRIs in the Supreme Court in 2013 and 2014.
  • A 12-member committee was set up in 2014 to study mainly three options i.e. voting by post, voting at an Indian mission abroad and online voting.
  • The committee ruled out online polling as this could compromise secrecy of voting.
  • It also ruled out the proposal to vote at Indian missions abroad as they do not have the resources to organise polling.
  • In 2015, the panel finally recommended that NRIs be given the additional alternative options of e-postal ballot and proxy voting, apart from casting their vote in person.
  • The Law Ministry accepted the recommendation on proxy voting and the Cabinet passed the proposal to amend the law last August.

 

What is E- postal ballot?

  • E-postal ballot is a ballot paper that is sent to the voter electronically and returned to the returning officer by post.

 

Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017

  • The bill proposes to amend Section 60 and extend the facility of proxy voting to Indian voters living abroad.

 

Need of the amendment

  • According to a UN report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world at 16 million.
  • The said rules (Registration of Electors Rules, 1960) stipulate the physical presence of the overseas electors in the respective polling station in India on the day of polling.
  • This causes hardship to the overseas electors in exercising their franchise by being present in India on the day of polling.

 

Nomination of proxies

  • It is not clear yet how NRIs will nominate their proxies.
  • The Election Commission will lay down the procedure by amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, after the Bill is passed by both Houses of Parliament.

 

Issues and Concerns

  • It suffers from an inherent problem of ‘trust deficiency’ and violates the principle of ‘secrecy of voting’ and ‘free and fair elections’.
  • The proxy voter may not vote as per the wishes of the overseas voter.
  • Proxy voting for NRIs could prove a logistical nightmare for the EC.

 

Note– The government responded to this fear in Parliament stating that the EC will frame rules in such a way that if proxy voting is misused, it will lead to cancellation of the mandate.

 

Which other countries have allowed overseas voting?

  • Many countries allow expatriates to vote, with different rules.
  • For example a British citizen living abroad can either travel back to the UK to vote in person, or vote by post, or nominate a proxy to do so, but this is subject to eligibility rules.
  • Also American expatriates can vote for federal office candidates in primary and general elections, irrespective of how long they have been living abroad.

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