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The Big Picture – E-voting for NRIs and migrant labour: Pros and Cons

The Big Picture – E-voting for NRIs and migrant labour:Pros and Cons:

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Summary:

Exercising one’s right to vote is one of the most precious rights which exists in democratic

countries. In India, adult franchise has been the basis eversince we adopted the constitution in

1950. However, in the last few years there has been a lot of debate about certain categories of

people being left out for various reasons. The strong NRI community consisting of over 1 crore

Indians living and working in abroad is one community as well as the domestic migrant

labourers. The NRIs were conferred the voting rights in 2011 with a condition however that

they should exercise it in the place they reside in India normally. This curtailed many NRIs who

could not go back to their place of residence to vote. Meanwhile there is a lot of discussion on

the voting rights of domestic migrant labours who constitute apparently 37%. Most of these

people are denied voting rights as they can’t manage to go back to their homes to exercise their

rights. The issue has been coming before Election Commission for many years.

Since it becomes difficult for NRIs to come to their places during election, e-voting or proxy

voting is proposed in place of the present system. However, the Election Commission has ruled

out e voting through internet. A committee, comprising officials from the Election Commission,

the Union Law Ministry and the Union Ministry of External Affairs, was constituted to look into

this matter. The recommendations made by the empowered committee included allowing e-

ballot for NRIs. The move to allow NRIs to use e-ballot facility will require changes in the law.

Under the proposal, NRIs will be sent ballot papers electronically and they will have to return it

to poll authorities physically. The committee was of the view that the e-postal ballot, where

blank postal ballot is transferred electronically to NRIs and returned by post, can be employed

after validation of the process and pilot implementation in one or two constituencies and then

be scaled up for parliamentary elections if found feasible, practicable and meeting the

objectives of free and fair elections.

The government in January had informed the Supreme Court of its decision to accept the

Election Commission’s recommendation to allow Non-Resident Indians to vote from overseas

through e-postal ballots or proxy voting. A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India had

given the government eight weeks’ time to inform it about further steps to implement the

modalities of the EC recommendations.

The government’s decision to allow NRIs to vote could set the stage for expatriates to emerge

as a decisive force in the country’s electoral politics. This decision also, historically, removes an

unreasonable restriction posed by Section 20(A) of the Representation of the People

(Amendment) Act of 2010, requiring overseas electors to be physically present in their

constituencies to cast their votes. There are 10 million Indian citizens staying abroad, and with

543 Lok Sabha constituencies, this means an astonishing average of 18,000 votes per

constituency may get polled from abroad. These additional votes, if polled, will obviously play a

crucial role in state and general elections.

However, the voting rights for poor migrant workers seem to have been overlooked. Despite

the fact that they make up the backbone of agriculture and industrial production in this

country, the Centre and EC have blatantly ignored their interests. Over 37% of India’s labour

are migrant workers. They are possibly the most disadvantaged group in the country, and

largely belong to the unorganised labour force. They are usually from lower castes with poor

socio-economic backgrounds. They are far removed from the social and structural framework of

the government. They cannot access any social welfare benefits, have no access to pensions,

work through extremely poor job security, get paid pittance, and do not have the backing of

labour unions.

They also find it extremely difficult to vote. As migrant workers are usually travelling around the

country looking for work, they cannot vote from their home state. India does not allow postal

ballots for anyone other than government workers posted outside their constituency on

election duty. Therefore, most migrant labourers will never vote for assembly or general

elections. The EC cited logistical problems and opposed voting rights for migrant labourers at

the place of their work. Under the current law, migrant labour will have to travel back to their

homes without paid leave, just to vote. They are not only the most disadvantaged group, they

are also the most under represented.

In e voting, potential disadvantages exist as well including the potential for flaws or weakness in

any electronic component. It has been demonstrated that as voting systems become more

complex and include softwares, different methods of election fraud become possible. Experts

also argue that humans are not equipped for verifying operations occurring within an electronic

machine and that because people cannot verify these operations, the operations cannot be

trusted.