The Election Commission of India has pointed out to the government several difficulties in extending the franchise to non-resident Indians (NRIs), Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla said here on Monday.
The Commissioner told the media that setting up polling stations in cities abroad involved a major logistical problem. The Commission would have to move many electronic voting machines to various cities abroad between the last day of nominations and the polling day and bring them back. This would be a mind-boggling exercise.
Now, NRIs can be registered as voters only if they have spent six months in the country. So, many NRIs would not qualify. Besides, the law sought to extend the franchise to those working and studying abroad and others. The term ‘others' was not well-defined and could even include criminal elements. These problems called for a change in the statutes. The Commission had written to the government two months ago about these problems. The authority of the Election Commission while conducting polling abroad too could be an issue.
Mr. Chawla said the Commission had so far issued voter identity cards to 582 million voters, constituting 82 per cent of the electorate. It hoped to achieve 100 per cent coverage by the end of next year. Kerala was a model in that it had achieved 100 per cent coverage much earlier.
He said the issuing of cards had helped check bogus voting to a large extent. The electoral system now worked superbly. The appointment of booth-level officers had helped improve the accuracy and fidelity of electoral rolls. Around 90,000 video cameras and 50,000 digital cameras were used in the last Lok Sabha elections to check malpractices.
Replying to questions, the Commissioner said the Commission had not received any complaint about voter registration of Shashi Tharoor, who was elected to Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, within the statutory time frame of seven days for filing such complaints. (It has been alleged that Mr. Tharoor registered himself as a voter though he had not been a resident of Thiruvananthapuram for more than six months.) Now, the matter could be raised only before a court of law.
He said court cases were pending regarding complaints of bogus registration of voters in the byelection from the Kannur Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala. The Commission's jurisdiction in the matter ended with the declaration of results. Now, the issue would have to be dealt with by the courts.