How EC plans to let migrants vote outside their home state | India News

On December 29 last year, the Election Commission took a giant leap in voter inclusion when it announced it had developed a multi-constituency remote EVM – or RVM – that would allow migrants to vote from anywhere in the country. Four years ago, TOI’s ‘Lost Votes’ campaign had highlighted the plight of millions of migrants who want to vote but can’t return to their hometowns on voting day. This new technology will hopefully ensure their votes get counted. The EC has circulated a concept paper to familiarise all recognised national and state political parties with the legal, administrative and technological aspects of remote voting and requested their feedback by January 31. It will also demonstrate the functioning of the prototype RVM on January 16 before representatives of all these parties. Bharti Jain explains what happens next and how RVMs will work
What’s The Need For Remote Voting?
About a third of Indian voters do not vote. In the 2019 parliamentary election, approximately 30 crore or 300 million voters – almost the entire population of the US – did not participate. The EC recognises three main reasons for this: urban apathy, youth apathy and ‘migration-based disenfranchisement’. Remote voting addresses the third issue.
At present, the problem is that Section 19 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 requires a voter to be enrolled only in the constituency where they are ordinarily resident. If they migrate to work, study, marry, etc, they must apply for enrolment at their new residence and get their name deleted from the old list. But it’s a cumbersome process so not many bother to enroll afresh, mainly because they don’t know how long they will stay in the new place.
The rules also dictate that voters must be physically present at the polling station to vote. The option of postal ballot is only available to service voters, foreign mission staff, people engaged in essential services, those over the age of 80,persons with disabilities or Covid-positive persons.
In 2015, while hearing a case on the denial of voting rights to domestic migrants, the Supreme Court had also asked the EC to explore options for remote voting.
What Steps Did EC Take?
Consultations between representatives of political parties and an EC panel started on August 29, 2016. The panel looked at a study by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on the subject of domestic migration and its impact on voting. It also held discussions with various ministries, organisations and experts, and submitted its report in November 2016.
Solutions like internet voting, proxy voting, early voting and postal ballot for migrant voters were considered but the EC refrained from recommending any of these. Instead, it focused on creating a robust electoral roll so that there is only one registration per voter, developing requisite technology for two-way electronic transmission of postal ballots in a controlled environment, and the amendment of laws to provide sufficient time for pre-registering such electors.
The EC subsequently took up a research project on remote voting, in consultation with IIT Madras and eminent technological experts from other institutions. It favoured allowing voters to vote at designated polling stations away from their place of registration “using a two-way electronic voting system… enabled with biometric devices and a web camera”.
Why The Push For RVMs Now?
During an 18-km trek to some of the remotest polling stations in Uttarakhand, in May last year, CEC Rajiv Kumar learnt first-hand how domestic migration was a key contributor to low voter turnout and also how much migrants were concerned at being left out of the decision-making process in their home constituency, simply because they could not travel there on polling day. A committee was set up soon after to finalise the remote voting proposal. The
proposal shared by the EC with all recognised political parties on December 29 offers solutions to the procedural, legal and administrative issues related to remote voting.
How Was The RVM Designed?
The EC worked with two PSUs that supply EVMs – Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) – to develop a robust, foolproof and efficient standalone system for remote voting based on
the existing ‘M3’ model of EVM. ECIL has now developed a prototype of multi-constituency remote EVM (RVM) that can handle voting for 72 constituencies from a single remote polling booth. The RVM is a non-networked device, justlike the EVMs currently in use. The EC claims it is tamper-proof and secure.
How Does An RVM Work?
A voter from state A, staying in state B, would be able to vote in A’s elections from a special remote voting booth set up in B. Each special booth would cater to voters of multiple constituencies in state A. As a pilot, remote polling booths might be set up within a state during state legislature polls for those voters who cannot travel back to their home district or constituency.
To cater to multiple assembly or parliamentary constituencies, the RVM will have a constituency card reader and a dynamic ballot display. After reading the constituency number, it will display the list of candidates in that particular constituency.
What Challenges Remain?
Legal: Amendments will be needed in Representation of the People Act, 1950 and 1951; Conduct of Election Rules, 1961; and The Registration of Electors Rules, 1960. ‘Migrant voter’ will need to be defined in terms of period and purpose of absence. Remote voting, too, will need to be defined as whether ‘remoteness’ means outside the constituency, district or state.
Administrative: Enumerating remote voters; ensuring secrecy of voting at remote locations; preventing impersonation; deciding number and location of remote polling booths; appointing polling personnel for remote polling stations, and implementing model code in locations outside the poll-bound state.
Technological: Procedure of remote voting; familiarising voters with multi-constituency RVM; counting votes cast at remote booths and transmitting results to returning officers in poll-bound state.
1 Remote voters will need to register by applying online or offline within a notified timeframe
2 Their details will be verified in their home constituency
3 Multi-constituency remote voting booths will be set up outside the place of election
4 At the polling booth, a voter’s constituency card will be scanned to display the ballot sheet on a public display unit as well as RVM
5 Voter will press candidate button of their choice on RVM
6 Vote will be recorded with state code, constituency number and candidate number in the remote control unit
7 VVPAT will print slip with details like candidate name, symbol and serial number, besides state and constituency codes
8 During counting, RVM’s remote control unit will display total votes of each constituency, in the sequence of candidates
9 Results will be shared with returning officers in the home state for counting

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