The Union government earlier this week approved changes to electoral laws to allow Non- Resident Indians to vote in Assembly and Lok Sabha election from overseas. This would be a historic move considering that the Representation of People Act of 1950 did not originally have provision for NRIs to vote. The Act disqualified NRIs from getting registered on the electoral rolls. In 2010, the Act was amended to include NRIs who were physically present in the country.
With the latest change, NRIs will be able to exercise their rights through a “proxy”.
The proposal to let NRIs overseas vote was taken up seriously by the Election Commission in 2014 when it received several requests — most prominently from Rajya Sabha MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal and the Ministry of Overseas Affairs.
What is proxy voting?
Proxy voting allows a Non-Resident Indian to appoint a nominee to exercise their franchise in place of him/her. The person declared as the proxy will be required to have all the documentation of the NRI in question to cast the vote.
This system is already in place for defence personnel. However, here is the caveat when this would apply to NRIs — they cannot have a permanent proxy. They will have to appoint a new nominee for each election. And again, unlike the Armed Forces, one person can act as a proxy for only one overseas voter. In case of the Armed Forces, one proxy can exercise franchise of two defence personnel. Suitable rules and guidelines will be framed for NRIs to define who can be a proxy, and what authorisation they would need from the original voter.
According to the numbers cited by New Indian Express, there are about 1 crore Indians settled abroad, of which 60 lakh could be of eligible voting age.
Before the clearance was given to proxy voting, the idea of granting NRIs postal voting rights was considered. With postal voting, NRIs would have received ballot papers electronically, and were required to send them to station officers after marking their preferences on ballot print-outs. But the government believed the process would get too cumbersome.