The Government has issued Notification on 21st October, 2016 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 would be transmitted to them electronically. This would cut short the delay experienced in the present system in two-way transmission of ballot paper by the postal services. The armed forces personnel serving in remote and border areas would be greatly benefitted since the present system of two-way transmission of ballot paper by the postal services has not been able to meet the expectations of the service voters.
The difficulties and hardships encountered by the service voters, especially by the armed forces personnel serving the border and remote areas of the country, have been receiving the attention of the Government in recent times. The issue was also agitated before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in the matter of Neela Gokhale vs. Union of India & Anr. (Writ Petition No. 1005 of 2013) pleading for creating effective mechanism for the Armed Forces Personnel (AFP) and their families to exercise their right to vote easily and effectively.
In the above backdrop, the Government approached the Election Commission with a view to mitigating the difficulties faced by service voters in the matter of exercising their franchise. The technical team of the Election Commission has developed a system whereby blank postal ballot could be electronically transmitted to the voter, namely, e-postal ballot system. Voters entitled to postal ballot such as service voters, can download the postal ballot and print the blank postal ballot. After marking his vote in the blank postal ballot, the same would be returned to the concerned Returning Officer by post as in the present system of postal ballot. The Election Commission proposed that the categories of voters mentioned at rule 18 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 may be made eligible for e-postal ballot system. However, on a pilot basis, e-postal ballot system has been introduced by Notification dated 21st October, 2016 for service voters consisting of (a) armed police forces of the Union; (b) other forces subject to the provisions of the Army Act, 1950; (c) armed forces of a State serving outside that State; and (d) those employed under the Government of India in a post outside India.
Two-way electronic transmission has not been recommended by the Election Commission for security and secrecy reasons.
One-way electronic transmission of blank postal ballot would considerably cut short the delay in receipt of the marked postal ballot by the Returning Officers on or before the date fixed for the counting of votes. Major beneficiaries would be the entire category of service voters as stated above, especially the armed forces personnel posted in border and remote areas of the country. With the issue of the aforesaid notification, a long-pending and near-unanimous demand of the service voters, including the armed forces personnel, has been fulfilled.