Chief Election Commissioner Addresses Concerns Hindering NRI Voting

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December 20, 2013

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC – Recognizing that voting has been a long-felt need of Non Resident Indians (NRIs), India’s Chief Election Commissioner, on a three-day visit to the nation’s capital, explored various options to spur registration and enrollment in the Indian electoral system.

December 20, 2013

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC – Recognizing that voting has been a long-felt need of Non Resident Indians (NRIs), India’s Chief Election Commissioner, on a three-day visit to the nation’s capital, explored various options to spur registration and enrollment in the Indian electoral system.

India’s Chief Election Commissioner (right) interacted with members of the Indian-American community at a discussion on NRI Voting in the Indian Embassy in Washington.  He is seen here with Anil Sharma of Overseas Volunteer for a Better India (OVBI)

On Monday evening, Mr. V.S. Sampath addressed a community gathering at the Indian Embassy here in keeping with his mission of galvanizing NRI voters, encouraging, even gently goading, them to participate in the electoral process.

He disclosed projected figures which had the audience in awe!  Next year, of the 1.2 billion people in India, 800 million people will go to the polls in the largest democratic exercise in the world.  There will be some 900,000 polling booths with over 1.18 million electronic voting machines.  Given the enormity, it is so commendable that the whole process is smooth, orderly and yields quick results.

“India is the envy of the world”, Mr. Sampath said.  “We are respected for our electoral democracy”.

The event on NRI voting was organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in conjunction with the Indian Embassy.  On hand, were: officials of the diplomatic mission here – Mr. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Charge D’ Affaires, Mr. Shiv Ratan, Counselor of Community Affairs and Mr. Sridharan Madhusudhanan, Counselor of Press, Information and Culture; Shuchita Sonalika of CII; and Indian-Americans from all walks of life.

Ambassador Sandhu noted, “Shortly, we are going to undertake perhaps the largest election so far in the world!  All this happens smoothly”, he said.  “Many people here find it unbelievable that the results are out within a few hours.  It’s all electronic voting and that’s the amazing success.  It’s all compliments to the Election Commissioner” who he described as a leading economic reformer with a distinguished public service career spanning over 40 years.

Mr. Sampath has quite a task when it comes to NRI voting.  There are some one crore NRIs, of which just over 10,000 have registered to vote.  “Why are you not enthusiastic about registering?”, the Chief Election Commissioner asked the gathering.  “Bring things to our notice regarding remedies”, he said.  “We, as a nation, attach the greatest importance to registration and enrollment”.

He pointed out that a beginning was made in 2010 by amendments to the Representation of People Act of 1951 whereby the first door was opened for NRIs to register in the Electoral Roll.  It is noteworthy that NRIs require Form 6A to enroll which can be downloaded online by visiting the web-site of the Election Commission of India at http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/nri.aspx

Referring to a deterrent, Mr. Sampath told the gathering that currently, NRIs can only seek to enroll.  They cannot cast their vote from the place of residence.  “You can enroll from outside the country”, he explained, “but you must be in India in order to vote”.

India’s Chief Election Commissioner (right) with Mr. Shiv Ratan, Counselor of Community Affairs, at the Indian Embassy in Washington

He believed that Internet voting would be an excellent means for NRIs to cast their ballot.  But, again, there are hurdles.  A legal framework is not in place and there is always the possibility of tampering with technology.  “We are very cautious when it comes to Internet voting”, he said.  “Once we are sure that Internet voting is safe, non-tamperable, then we will be in a position to tell lawmakers to introduce it”.

Mr. Sampath mentioned there are problems with postal ballots, too, as it is not possible to send them to scores of NRIs around the world and get them back in time.

Regarding the electoral system in India, the Chief Election Commissioner admitted it is dogged by urban apathy.  He pointed out that in  2009, some 300 million people did not cast their vote.  “People in rural areas are very conscious of their democratic responsibilities, to get registered and vote”, he said.  “People in urban areas somehow don’t have the same kind of vision and enthusiasm for participation in electoral activities”.

To counter urban apathy, the Election Commission made ardent efforts in Delhi, in the recent elections.  The voter turnout was over 66 percent “which, by any standards, is remarkable”, said Mr. Sampath.

He was pleased by what he called “a historic turnout of voters” in these recent elections.  A state like Rajasthan which is not known for a great voter turnout recorded 74 percent, he noted.  In the past, women were lagging in both registration and participation.  Not this time – the number of women participating in the electoral process was higher than men.  The same was true for Chhattisgarh where 77 percent of people cast their ballots.  In Mizoram, voter turnout was 83 percent, “the highest ever for that state”, said Mr. Sampath.

He attributed a higher turnout to a keen political contest, more mobilization and the positive role of Press and Media.  “The role of mobilization by political parties and candidates cannot be underestimated”, he said.  “Media is our great support.  It has a very great role to play in voter participation, checking some of the maladies”.

Regarding the election process, it could begin in mid-March to elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha.


Community Special by MYDOSTI.COM

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