Election Commission in Talks with MEA to Ensure voting by overseas voters

The Election Commission (EC) has proposed to change the rules pertaining to the conduct of elections to facilitate the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) for overseas Indian voters. For this purpose, EC is in discussion with the Ministry of External Affairs to iron out logistical challenges in implementing the same.

There are three categories of Electors in India: 1. General Electors, 2. Overseas (NRI) Electors and 3. Service Electors or Voters. Union Law Minister stated that the total number of overseas voters on January 1 stood at over 1.15 lakh.

Who can Enroll as Overseas Elector/NRI Voter? A citizen of India, absent from the country owing to employment, education etc. who has not acquired citizenship of any other country and are otherwise eligible to be registered as a voter in the address mentioned in your passport.

Manner and procedure of registration of overseas electors It has been prescribed by the Registration of Electors (Amendment) Rules, 2011, notified by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Legislative Department, Government of India. According to Rule 8A of Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 application for registration as Overseas Electors has to be made to Election Registration Officers in Form 6A.

Constitution of India

  • Article 326 declares that elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assemblies of States shall be on the basis of adult suffrage and every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than 18 years of age on a prescribed date and is not otherwise disqualified under this Constitution or any law made by the appropriate Legislature on the ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any such election. 
  • Further Section 62 of Representation of People Act, 1951 provides for the process of right to vote.

Important highlights – Section 62 – Right to vote (RPA-1952)

  1. Only such persons shall be entitled to vote whose name is registered in a constituency.
  2. A person shall not vote if he/she is disqualified under Section 16, RPA-1950.
  3. If any person votes in more than one constituency, then their votes in every constituency shall be void. 
  4. Voting more than once in the same constituency will also result in making the votes void.
  5. If a person is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police – then such person cannot vote. However, a person in preventive detention can vote including voting in the Presidential elections.
  6. However, a person can vote as proxy for another candidate and such proxy vote shall not be declared as void.

Prior to 2010

  • An Indian citizen who was an eligible voter and was residing abroad for more than six months owing to employment, education or otherwise was not allowed to vote.
  • 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.  

Post 2010

  • The Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010 – eligible NRIs who had stayed abroad beyond six months were allowed to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector.  (Section 20A) 
  • Overseas Indian citizens like other Indian citizens are therefore allowed to vote but have to be physically present.    
  • 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 for enrollment.    


Section 20A –  Special provisions for citizens of India residing outside India –

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, every citizen of India— 

  • whose name in not included in the electoral roll; 
  • who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country; and 
  • who is absenting from his place of ordinary residence in India owing to his employment, education or otherwise outside India (whether temporarily or not), 

shall be entitled to have his name registered in the electoral roll in the constituency in which his place of residence in India as mentioned in his passport is located. 

(2) The time within which the name of persons referred to in sub-section (1) shall be registered in the electoral roll and the manner and procedure for registering of a person in the electoral roll under sub-section (1) shall be such as may be prescribed. 

(3) Every person registered under this section shall, if otherwise eligible to exercise his franchise, be allowed to vote at an election in the constituency. 

Service Voters

Service voter is a voter having service qualification. According to Section 20 (8) of Representation of People Act, 1950, service qualification means:

  • Being a member of the armed Forces of the Union; or
  • Being a member of a force to which provisions of the Army Act, 1950 (46 of 1950), have been made applicable whether with or without modification;
  • Being a member of an Armed Police Force of a State, and serving outside that state; or
  • Being a person who is employed under the Government of India, in a post outside India.
  • Election Commission during the Lok Sabha Elections of 2019 allowed voting through Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS).
  • The service voters were sent postal ballots electronically one way to save processing time, resources and avoid human errors.

Electronically transmitted postal ballot system (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.

Functionality of ETPBS

  • Returning Officer generates ballot paper electronically by a specific desktop application. This ballot then gets encrypted in the system is ready to be sent.
  • The first functionality is the ability to generate the postal ballot online for transmitting through ETPBS.
  • 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.       

Two way electronic voting

  • Two-way electronic transmission of vote envisages that – a registered voter from any location in India, once his identity is proved, will be able to cast his vote electronically through a secure encrypted system and the same will reach the designated returning officer for counting.  
  • EC is currently experimenting by using blockchain technology to facilitate two way electronic voting. 
Two way electronic voting
Providing Overseas Voters the Right to Vote
It will increase voter participation.Logistical Challenge to conduct voting either at Indian Embassies abroad or some other place which needs to be sanitized for voting.
It will cater to the vast Indian diaspora living abroad.It may impact several rights (employment, residence etc.) of such NRIs who intend to settle permanently in foreign countries.
Remove compulsions on part of Indians to travel to India especially for voting purpose.
It will fulfill the mandate of Article 326 and Section 62 of RPA, 1951 – which provides for right to vote for every citizen registered in the electoral roll.

Key Concerns on Online Voting using Blockchain Technology

Despite the benefits, security concerns have been raised by experts on the following grounds: 

  • Hacking of Blockchain Technology may result in:
  • Impersonation of voters
  • Transfer of votes for rival candidates
  • Cloning of biometric authentication
  • Denial-of-service attack might disallow citizens to register and vote
  • Disenfranchise a group or community of citizens
  • Decrypting votes casted 
  • Open to misuse by foreign intelligence & corporates     
  • Voting Preference and Pattern may become Public which is opposed to secret ballot   

What Needs to be Done to Allow Online Voting for  NRIS – Way Forward

  • If online voting is to be allowed by the government, then Section 20A of Representation of People Act, 1950 along with the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 needs to be amended to allow online voting by NRIs even from outside India. 
  • Aspects related to logistics must be sorted out with the help of Ministry of External Affairs to allow smooth voting process for the overseas voters.
  • Two Way Electronic Voting can also be considered by the Election Commission by plugging the loopholes of online voting for the overseas voters.    

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