The ability to freely exercise the “right to vote” is a fundamental principle of a democratic country. However, in every Indian election, millions of people are denied their voting rights, because they are not physically present in the locality where their vote is registered.
These people include migrant workers, students, and people who could not fulfill the requirement of “ordinarily resident in a constituency” as defined under Section 19 of the Representation of the People Act (1951).
Article 326 of the Indian constitution promises universal adult franchise to every citizen who is 18 years old. Still, disenfranchisement remains a major issue, as it strips away the agency of people to participate in the political process that shapes the governments and policies of our country.
The Election Commission of India provides the option of postal ballot, but it is highly exclusionary in nature.
Section 60 of the Representation of the People Act (1951) allows only members of the armed forces, members of the police force (serving outside the state), government employees posted outside India and their spouses, to vote by post. Voters under preventive detention can also vote only by post.
Recently, in 2018, the Indian government proposed postal voting for non-resident Indians (NRIs) via electronic postal ballot. Till now, if an NRI wanted to vote, they were required to be physically present at the time of voting.
The government argued that there is a “need for the country to respect and recognize the achievements of the NRIs.”
However, at the same time Indian government failed to acknowledge the contribution of migrant workers to the Indian economy and does not mention any such provision for them (or anyone else) in the proposed bill.
To develop an inclusive and diverse, democratic society, which takes into account the voice of every individual and recognises their right to formulate the political discourse of our country—the Indian election system ought to adopt postal ballot for everyone, like the US.
Postal voting in the US is a form of absentee ballot, in which a ballot is mailed to the home of a registered voter, who fills it out and returns it by postal mail, or drops it off in-person at a secure drop box, or voting center.
By introducing postal ballot in the Indian elections, it would not only allow migrant workers or students to exercise their right to vote, but also to the people could not be present at the day of voting.
The right to vote is the central tenant of citizenship—denial of which disempowers people who are already at the margins of our society.