E-Voting for NRIs Still A Dream
Back in January this year the Supreme Court issued notice to the Election Commission and the government of India to take steps for NRIs to vote. It was expected that soon millions of Indians abroad, including five million in the Gulf region, a majority of whom are Keralites, will be getting the right to vote.
Keralites were expected to be the first to cast their votes through e-ballot during the local body election slated for September 2015. However, the e-ballot system now seems to be far from being realized.
The votes of NRIs can be a huge decisive factor in the various elections to be held in the country. The government had told the Supreme Court that it had agreed to accept the recommendation to provide voting rights to non-resident Indians through e-postal ballot system. The Election Commission had submitted the proposal based on petitions by UAE-based Dr V P Shamsheer and London-based Nagender Chindam, chairman of Pravasi Bharat. According to Mr. Chindam, there are 10 million NRIs which could account to an average of 18,000 votes to each of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies.
Under the proposal, the expatriates were to be electronically sent blank ballot papers which they would have to physically return to the concerned authorities. The first voting by expatriates was to take place during the upcoming local body elections in Kerala as per the decision taken at an all-party meeting in Thiruvananthapuram in January. The state ministry had said that the Election Commission was ready to execute the e-voting process without flaw if it is approved by all the parties.
However, the State Election Commission rejected the state government’s recommendation to allow NRIs to take part in the local body election. Introducing e-ballot within the limited time ahead in a foolproof manner was not feasible. The strife between state government and the State Election Commission began with this and both the parties are now in disagreement over the scheduled date for the local body elections.
The EC wants to conduct the elections on the scheduled date according to the existing wards insisting that it is the constitutional duty to carry out timely elections. The state government, on the other hand, wants to extend the date till the delimitation process of the wards is complete. This process would require at least another three months even without further legal complications. The State Election Commissioner, K Sasidharan Nair, in his letter to the Governor, said that extending the elections for such duration would be against constitutional provisions.
Several UDF ministers including K C Joseph, who handles the affairs of non-resident Keralites, had complained that the Election Commission was not cooperating with the state to facilitate e-voting system for those living abroad. Sasidharan Nair refuted this allegation and stated that the commission was working in full cooperation with the government.