New Delhi: The Union government issued a notification on 21 October amending Rule 23 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, enabling service voters, including armed forces personnel, to cast their vote in elections through e-postal ballot. Under this system, a blank postal ballot paper will be transmitted to them electronically. This would cut short the delay experienced in the present system in the two-way transmission of ballot paper by the postal services.
The armed forces personnel serving in remote and border areas would be greatly benefitted from the changed rule.
The difficulties and hardships encountered by the service voters, especially by the armed forces personnel serving in the border and remote areas of the country, have been receiving the attention of the government in recent times. The issue was also brought before the Supreme Court, in the case of Neela Gokhale vs Union of India & Anr. (Writ Petition No. 1005 of 2013). The petition pleaded for the creation of an effective mechanism for the armed forces personnel and their families to exercise their right to vote easily and effectively.
In this backdrop, the government approached the Election Commission (EC) with a view to mitigating the difficulties faced by service voters in the matter of exercising their franchise. The technical team of the EC has developed a system whereby blank postal ballots could be electronically transmitted to the voter through what is being called the e-postal ballot system.
Voters entitled to the postal ballot, such as service voters, can download the postal ballot and print it. After a soldier marked his vote in the blank postal ballot so far, the same was being returned to the returning officer concerned by post.
The EC has proposed that the categories of voters mentioned in Rule 18 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, may be made eligible for e-postal ballot system. However, on a pilot basis, the e-postal ballot system has been introduced by notification dated 21 October for service voters comprising
- the armed police forces of the Union,
- other forces subject to the provisions of the Army Act, 1950,
- armed forces of a State serving outside that State and
- those employed under the Government of India in a post outside India.
The EC has not recommended the two-way electronic transmission for security and secrecy reasons. The one-way electronic transmission of blank postal ballots will cut short the delay in receipt of the marked postal ballot by the returning officers considerably — on or before the date fixed for the counting of votes.
A long-pending and near-unanimous demand of the service voters, including the armed forces personnel, has been fulfilled.