Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) | UPSC

Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) | UPSC

      HEADLINES:

Are NRIs likely to get postal voting rights soon?

      WHY IN NEWS:

What is the Election Commission’s proposal and how can it be made possible for non-resident Indians?

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2 : Election Commission

      LEARNING: 

For PRELIMS this is an important article . Go through the procedure of such elections carefully . Remember the role of Returning officer.

For MAINS take a note on amendments to Conduct of election Rules 1961 and substantial reforms in RPA for Overseas Indians.

      ISSUE: 

On November 27, the Election Commission of India (ECI) wrote to the Law Ministry, proposing to extend the facility of postal ballots to (eligible) overseas, non-resident Indians (NRIs)

  • The ECI proposed amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, in order to allow this facility.
  • The postal ballots will be sent to NRIs electronically and they will send these ballots after choosing their candidate via post.

ELECTRONIC FACILITY IS NOW AVAILABLE TO

Service voters (members of the Armed Forces of the Union).

  • A member of a force to which provisions of the Army Act, 1950 (46 of 1950).
  • A member of an Armed Police Force of a State, and serving outside that State
  • A person who is employed under the Government of India, in a post outside India and is being sought to be extended to overseas NRI voters.

HOW CAN OVERSEAS VOTERS CURRENTLY VOTE IN INDIAN ELECTIONS?

  • Prior to 2010, an Indian citizen who is an eligible voter and was residing abroad for more than six months owing to employment, education or otherwise, would not have been able to vote in elections.
  • This was because the NRI’s name was deleted from electoral rolls if he or she stayed outside the country for more than six months at a stretch.

The Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, enabled eligible NRIs to vote who had stayed abroad beyond six months , but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector. 

  • Just as any resident Indian citizen above the age of 18 years  is eligible to vote in the constituency where she/he is a resident, overseas Indian citizens are also eligible to do so.
  • In the case of overseas voters, their address mentioned in the passport is taken as the place of ordinary residence and chosen as the constituency for the overseas voter to enrol in.

HOW HAS THE EXISTING FACILITY WORKED SO FAR?

  • From merely 11,846 overseas voters who registered in 2014, the number went up to close to a lakh in 2019.
  • The bulk of these voters (nearly 90%) belonged to just one State — Kerala.
  • Of the 25,606 such voters who actually turned up, 25,534 were from Kerala (mostly from Kozhikode and Malappuram districts).
  • Clearly, a very low proportion of eligible overseas residents actually registered or turned up to vote.

The Representation of the People Act, envisaged voters as only the “ordinary residents” in a constituency who will choose representatives to represent their local interests.

  • Some democracies that already allow absentee voting stipulate that overseas electors are eligible to vote provided they are not abroad for a specified period of time and/or if they mention an “intent to return”.

REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT AND NRI’s

“A person absenting himself temporarily from his place of ordinary residence shall not by reason thereof cease to be ordinarily resident therein”.-Section 20-1A, Part III RPA

  • The above section in essence provides for NRIs who are temporarily staying abroad to be eligible to vote in their local constituencies.
  • Yet, the provision of having to visit the polling booth in person has discouraged eligible voters from exercising their mandate.
  • In the winter session of Parliament in 2017, Section 20A of the RPA was to be amended , which required them to be physically present to vote in their constituencies.

The Bill provided for overseas voters to be able to appoint a proxy to cast their votes on their behalf, subject to conditions laid down in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

  • The Bill was later passed in 2018, but lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
  • Now the ECI has approached the government to permit NRIs to vote via postal ballots similar to a system that is already used by service voters (the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System, or ETPBS).

ELECTRONICALLY TRANSMITTED POSTAL BALLOT SYSTEM (ETPBS)

WHAT IS ETPBS ?

  • Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) is the one-way electronic transmission of the Postal ballots to the Service Voters.

The Service Voter then cast their vote and send it to the respective returning officer via Post

  • The complete process is secured by way of multiple checks and transmission protocol to ensure safe transmission.
  • Upon receipt of the postal ballot at the counting centres, the returning officer validates the receipt by a series of QR codes with that of the transmitted system.
  • This application was launched on 21st Oct 2016.

Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) | UPSC

SOURCES : ECI

FUNCTIONALITY

  • Returning Officer generates ballot paper electronically by a specific desktop application.
  • The list of the candidates is punched along with their party names.
  • This ballot then gets encrypted in the system is ready to be sent.

Through ETPBS system, the ballots are automatically assigned to Service Voters based upon their constituency and get then gets transmitted.
 

  • The unit officer downloads the Postal ballots on behalf of the service voter.
  • These downloaded ballots will be password protected.
  • The downloaded Postal Ballot can now be e-transmitted / hand-delivered using their secured network/infrastructure to the individual service voters.
  • The PIN will be transmitted/ dispatched to the individual service voters by the Record Officer to ensure that the downloaded Postal Ballot is opened by the concerned service voter only.
  • Thus ETPBS transmits the Postal ballot from the returning officer to the service voters electronically by a series of security protocol.

WILL THIS FACILITY BE AVAILABLE TO ALL OVERSEAS VOTERS ACROSS COUNTRIES?

There were news reports that the ECI had indicated to the Ministry of External Affairs that it would want postal voting introduced on a pilot basis in non-Gulf countries
 

  • ECI had asked the Law Ministry to explore the possibility of extending postal ballots to overseas electors and not restrict it to any particular country.

ARE POSTAL BALLOTS A VIABLE MEANS OF VOTING?

  • The ETPBS method allowed for greater turnout among service voters in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Postal ballots were proven to be a secure and easy ways of registering the mandate in the presidential elections in the United States recently.

  • A postal ballot mechanism that allows for proper authentication of the ballot at designated consular/embassy offices.

      IASbhai WINDUP: 

SUMMARY

  • The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 was amended in 2016 to allow service voters to use the ETPBS.
  • Under this system, postal ballots are sent electronically to registered service voters.

The service voter can then download the ETPB (along with a declaration form and covers), register their mandate on the ballot and send it to the returning officer of the constituency via ordinary mail.

  • The post will include an attested declaration form (after being signed by the voter in the presence of an appointed senior officer who will attest it).
  • The postal ballot must reach the returning officer by 8 a.m. on the day of the counting of results.
  • The ECI now proposes to extend this facility to overseas voters as well.

In the case of NRI voters, those seeking to vote through ETPBS will have to inform the returning officer at least five days after notification of the election.

  • The returning officer will then send the ballot electronically via the ETPBS.
  • The NRI voter can then register her/his mandate on the ballot printout and send it back with an attested declaration in a process similar to the service voter.
  • Except in this case, the senior officer would be appointed by the Indian diplomatic or consular representative in the resident country of the NRI.
  • The ECI has not specified whether the voter should send in the ballot through ordinary post to the returning officer or drop it off at the Indian consular office/embassy.
  • On a later stage it will then send the consolidated envelopes constituency-wise to the returning officers.
     SOURCES:  THE HINDU | Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) | UPSC

 

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