Millions of domestic migrants in India may soon get to vote in elections in their native areas without leaving their places of employment if a government proposal to extend postal ballot facilities to them is successful.
Sources said a committee of ministers has been asked to examine the possibility of allowing the choice of postal ballots — both electronically and through proxy voters — to domestic migrant labourers and workers, in consultation with the election commission.
But the facility may take a few years to materialise throughout India as the poll panel will have to create an elaborate mechanism for its implementation for domestic workers.
The EC estimates around 12-15% of the 815 million voters in India fall in the migrant category, based on an analysis of the frequent changes made in electoral rolls.
But a vast majority of these eligible voters don’t get to exercise their franchise when polls are held in their native areas as most cannot afford to travel or miss work.
A National Sample Survey Office survey in 2007-08 said around 29% of Indians were migrants, moving mostly from rural to urban areas.
Moreover, a comparison of the 2001 and 2011 census figures showed a four percentage point jump in the proportion of India’s urban population.
With such large numbers of eligible poor voters left out because of work-related migration, government sources said the prime minister’s office asked an informal ministerial group to examine whether domestic migrant workers can get facilities as proposed to be given to non-resident Indians.
In 2014, the Supreme Court had asked the EC to consider allowing NRIs to vote from their place of employment.
The poll panel recommended a new e-postal ballot system and extension of the existing proxy-voting facility for NRI voters from their place of residence abroad, and was accepted by the government.
The government also decided to extend e-postal ballots to defence personnel and those on election duty.
In e-postal system, the ballot paper is emailed to the voter at a dedicated email address and the person is required to send the marked ballot paper through post to the returning officer of the constituency where he or she is a registered voter. These postal votes are counted before the regular process of counting of votes is done.
In the case of proxy voting, a person can authorise a family member to vote on their behalf after getting an authorisation letter signed by his superior or a magistrate. The authorisation document has to be sent to the returning officer of the constituency where he or she has a vote.
The law ministry recently circulated a cabinet note seeking an amendment in section 60 of the Representation of People’s Act to provide an option of voting in person, by proxy or by postal ballots ------ including e-postal ballots to overseas voters, services voters, armed forces personnel and their spouses to exercise their franchise.
The note was approved by the ministries of finance, home and external affairs before the PMO sought expansion of the proposed amendment.
EC sources said the proposal can be implemented once electoral rolls are cleaned of duplicate voters and there is a unique voter identity number for each voter. The EC has already created a digital national electoral roll and promises to remove most duplicates by next year.