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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

#India'sLostVotes: Engaging NRI's in India's Democratic Spectacle

With a population of 1.21 billion, India is the largest democracy in the world. Out of the total population, some 814 million Indian’s are registered to vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, currently underway.

Statistics obtained for previous Lok Sabha elections, held between 1952 to 2004, reveals that only 60% of the registered voters actually vote. This implies that less than 50% of India’s total population participates in the world’s largest democratic spectacle.

Compared to the United Kingdom (75.2%), Australia (94.5%) and Germany (85.4%), India lags well behind in terms of participatory politics.

Further analysis of this year’s initial figures show polling rates of 54.13% in Maharashtra, 55.98% in Madhya Pradesh, 60% in Uttar Pradesh, 64% in Delhi and 53% in Jammu.

It therefore seems unlikely that the number of Indian’s voting in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will increase drastically and change the trend seen in the past.

This is an issue not solely limited to domestic voters.

As a Solicitor of Indian origin living in London and like many million Indians living abroad, I have a desire to vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.

I recently contacted the Indian High Commission in London to ascertain whether as a Non Resident Indian (NRI) I was entitled to vote in Indian elections.

I received a prompt response informing me that I had a right to make an application to the Electoral Registration Officer for being registered in the electoral roll for the constituency pertaining to the locality stated in my Indian Passport.

However, to cast a vote I would have to be physically present on the day of the election at the polling station.

Even though NRI’s can theoretically vote, it is impractical to require NRI’s to travel to India to exercise their Constitutional right.

Various questions come to mind: Whether the existing procedures in place are sufficient to ensure participation by NRI’s in Indian elections? What steps can be taken to ensure these lost votes are saved? What benefits could be achieved from saving these lost votes?

It seems that the current procedures in place are inadequate if one compares them to the steps taken by other democracies.

To illustrate, countries like Canada and Estonia have effective procedures in place which allow its nationals to cast votes online via the internet.

A second solution could be to follow the example of countries such as the United Kingdom and United States which allow ballot papers to be sent to its citizens living abroad for them to exercise their right to vote by post.

Even though it may be argued that allowing votes to be cast online or by post can raise issues of cyber security or election rigging, the impact of allowing votes to be cast online or by post in the above countries has been outstanding.

An independent report by digital-strategy firm Delvinia in Canada showed a near-10% increase in the overall turnout of voters.

Another way to increase participation by NRI’s in elections would be to make provision for voter registration facilities and to organise polling stations at Indian missions around the world.

This may be an interim step which can be considered before the election commission can ensure that secure procedures are in place to allow casting of votes online or by post in the future.

NRI’s can take respite from the fact that a number of solutions are currently being explored including a request by the Indian Supreme Court to the Election Commission to explore the possibility of providing NRI's a postal voting facility.

- Kartik Mittal is a member of the Indian Bar and a Solicitor with Zaiwalla & Co. Solicitors in London

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