Legal provisions for NRI voting

According to the Representation of People Act 2010, a NRI is a citizen of India who is absent from the country owing to employment, education, etc has not acquired citizenship of any other country are eligible to be registered as a voter in the address mentioned in their passports.

The Section 20A in the act states every citizen of India whose name is not included in the electoral roll, who did not acquire the citizenship of another country and who is absent from their residence in India and left for another country for the purpose of employment, education, etc. will be entitled to have their name registered in the electoral roll in the constituency according to their residential address mentioned in the passport. In order to exercise this, a NRI has to register themselves by filling form 6A in '' and attaching the required proofs.
If we consider the data released by Election Commision of India from 2012, the rate of NRIs exercising their Right to Vote is alarmingly low. The electoral roll published by the Election Commision of India in 2012 shows that only 10002 NRIs registered for voting. And by 2019 out of 1,31,13,360 NRIs, only 71,735 registered as voters i.e, 99.45% didn't register as voters.

One of the major reasons behind the low rate of voter registrations of NRIs is that, the only voting method available for them is to be physically present at the polling stations
to cast their vote. Some NRIs have raised demands that they should be allowed to vote by alternative methods. Some even filed Writ Petitions:
● Writ Petition (C) 80 of 2013-Nagender Chindan & Others

● Writ Petitions (C) No. 1010 of 2013- Naresh Kumar Hanchate & Ors

● Writ Petition (C) No. 265 of 2014- Dr. Shamsheer V.P.

So, what are the 'other' voting methods?
The possible alternatives here are online voting and postal ballot.The 'other' alternatives are,

Voting through Postal ballot:
According to the provisions of sub–section (8) of Section 20 of Representation of People Act, 1951, the facility of voting through a postal ballot is available to a service voter. And the qualification to be a service voter is being:
(a) a member of the armed forces of the Union

(b) a member of a force to which provisions of the Army Act, 1950

(c) a member of an Armed Police Force of a State, and serving outside that state

(d) a person who is employed under the Government of India, in a post outside India (including the voters on election duty) This service voter can register in the electoral roll of the constituency in their native place even if they actually reside at a different place (of posting) or they can also register as a general elector at the place of their posting where they are residing ordinarily with their family for a sufficient span of time.

Voting through proxy:
This facility is available to a Classified Service Voter (CSV) who is a person belonging to Armed Forces or forces to which provisions of Army Act, 1950 are applicable who votes through a proxy voter duly appointed by themselves. A classified service voter may appoint any person as their proxy to give vote on his / her behalf and in their name at the polling station. The proxy shall have to be ordinary resident of that constituency. They need not be a registered voter but he / she must not be disqualified to be registered as a voter.

The supreme court of India has constituted a committee to examine the feasibility of providing voting rights to overseas electors. This committee set-up by the ECI has decided to examine the feasibility of different options that can be considered including online voting, postal ballot etc. and also to look into aspects of data security, secrecy of ballot, possibility of misuse by intimidation/inducement, logistics, operational challenges, etc. After several meetings and discussions, the committee has come up with possible alternative methods of voting. They are:
1. Personal voting at diplomatic missions/designated polling stations in a foreign country
2. Internet Voting
3. Voting through postal ballot paper
4. Proxy voting
After examination of all the possibilities including the inputs of national political parties they recommended that, in order to cater to the needs of all categories of NRIs, additional alternative options of e-postal ballot and proxy voting can be made available depending upon the preference exercised by NRI voter. This amendment to the Representation of People Act 1951 introduced by the government in December 2017 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 9th August 2018. However, it is yet to be passed in the Rajya Sabha. So as this is still a pending decision, the Lok Sabha elections 2019 do not have the 'alternate' methods of voting for the NRIs. So any NRI who has to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, have to be physically present at the polling booths of their registered constituency.

NRIs supporting a political party can add great value as NRIs are looked upon as mark of success and influence by people of Indian origin. And the concerns of NRIs who belong to the upper middle classes (majority) will be limited to first world problems rather than problems with third world country like India.

Srujana Botcha

Understanding the dynamics.