The extension of proxy voting rights to NRIs needs meticulous planning
Evolving a foolproof system to ascertain the genuineness of the proxy selected by an NRI could be a challenge
With the government introducing a bill in Parliament in the winter session, more than 25 million Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who are registered voters in the country could exercise their franchise in elections held in India through a proxy while staying abroad. The move to relax the residence requirement and actual personal participation for NRIs through an amendment to the Representation of People Act is a step forward towards internet voting.
The need for proxy voting as well as postal ballot was recognised in order to remove the hardships faced by certain voters because of frequent outstation transfers. In many countries, postal ballot and proxy voting are given to certain categories of voters, especially government servants and armed services personnel.
Although the contours or the mechanics of proxy voting are yet not clear, any implementation mechanism for such a move has to be carefully crafted. Postal ballot is allowed to Americans who reside outside the country’s jurisdiction, but in the United States the election process is carried out efficiently with clear instructions for voters. It is therefore necessary that the Election Commission of India discharges this enormous responsibility by educating the voters and officials concerned properly. At the same time, it will have to impress upon voters the need to preserve the secrecy of the ballot by providing an individual security code. Another challenge could be devising a foolproof system to ascertain the genuineness of the proxy selected by an NRI for casting the vote.
One more note of caution: At present, the expenditure of candidates and parties is watched closely within the geographical limits of the electoral constituency where the election is held. But it will be tough to keep a watch on expenditure incurred outside the country. Perhaps a declaration should be attached to the ballot affirming non-acceptance of any gain from the candidate or political parties. One hopes this will not open up new ways to bribe voters. The candidate and political party should maintain details of the money spent abroad for inclusion in the final statement of expenditure.
This system of proxy voting has already existed in our country for the armed forces personnel for some time now. One problem that surfaced during its implementation included making sure that the ballot paper reached the places where the voter was working, particularly for soldiers posted in forward areas.
Eventually, even as postal ballot and proxy voting are extended as options to the voter, to avoid the logistical bottlenecks regarding timely availability of ballot paper and misuse of proxy vote, it is better to consider electronic voting. This would require meticulous planning and consultation with all stakeholders. Even if internet voting is introduced, the commission will have to make sure that adequate safeguards are in place since political parties in India are wary of the potential for irregularities in any such system.
Despite all these reservations, if the proposal works efficiently, we could consider extending similar postal/proxy voting options to senior citizens and the physically challenged.
TS Krishnamurthy is former Chief Election Commissioner of India
The views expressed are personal