If the Election Commission (EC) has its way, service voters as well as NRIs could exercise their franchise through e-votes or electronic postal ballots by the year 2024-25.
The e-voting system is expected to be rolled out in three steps, and a dummy test for the first step — uploading of e-ballot paper to the voters which they would send by post after registering their choice — was done last week in Pune, sources in the poll panel said.
“We have already conducted the dummy test last week in C-Dat. We uploaded the ballot paper; it was downloaded with the required formalities and the security checks and then posted after casting vote. Another set of dummy test will be conducted next month in Maharashtra,” said an EC official.
However, the proposed plan can be a reality only if Parliament amends the Representation of Peoples Act and the Conduct of Election Rules.
Although the Election Commission sent its proposal to the Law Ministry last year, there has been no sign of progress from the government’s side, sources said.
“The e-voting would save a lot of money as many service votes get lost due to delay in sending and receiving the postal ballots. Once the e-voting is approved, the same can be used in the case of NRI voters also,” said an EC official.
In 2010, NRIs were allowed to vote, but the rules required them to be present in their respective constituencies on the day of polling.
However, after an Abu Dhabi-based NRI, Shamsheer Vayalil, filed a PIL challenging the rules, the Supreme Court asked the Central government to enable e-voting by NRIs.
An EC official said that converting the postal ballot system completely into e-voting would take time.
“Political parties, stakeholders and voters have to develop faith in it. It depends a lot on acceptance. A complete e-voting could be rolled out only by 2024-25. First trial in some selected constituencies will take place in 2019,” the official added.
Although service voters have voting rights, the logistics often make it difficult for them to exercise their franchise.
At present, ballot papers are sent to security personnel by post, which they have to send back so that ballot papers reach the counting stations in their respective constituencies before 8 am on the counting day. Members of Army, Navy and Air Force and personnel of General Reserve Engineer Force (Border Road Organisation), Border Security Force, Indo Tibetan Border Police, Assam Rifles, National Security Guards, Central Reserve Police Force, Central Industrial Security Force and Sashastra Seema Bal are eligible to be registered as service voters.
Once the e-voting is accepted for service voters, the rules can be changed to follow the same practice for NRI voters.
In 2010, an amendment was carried out to allow them to register themselves at the place of residence as shown in their passport.
Another condition was added that they can cast their vote by visiting that polling station . Although there has been a campaign on NRI voting, only 1,14,000 voters among the 11 million-plus NRI community have registered their names.