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10m Indian Expats Win Right To Vote

Indian expats will soon gain the right to cast electronic votes from overseas as the government opted to adopt the measure under pressure from the courts and lobbyists.

India has around 10 million non-residents entitled to vote – with around half living in the Gulf States.

The Electoral Commission recommended allowing expats to vote online or through a proxy living in India, but rejected postal votes or internet voting for fear of tampering with the process.

The ruling should become effective around the end of March, but does not come soon enough for the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections.

The decision followed a legal challenge to India’s Supreme Court from Abu Dhabi doctor Shamsheer Vayalil.

Landmark victory

Dr Vayalil has lived as an expat in the United Arab Emirates for more than a decade and manages nine hospitals for VPS healthcare.

His petition to the courts has finally won through after 10 months of legal wrangling and behind-the-scenes discussions.

“No vote makes you a non-person,” he said. “Having a vote gives everyone a voice even if they choose not to exercise their right at an election.

“This opportunity makes non-resident Indians a large pressure group. India has a history of elections swayed by a few thousand votes and now the Middle East has become an important bloc. Our votes could mean the difference between winning and losing for candidates.

“That’s why this is such an important decision for millions of expat Indians who have an interest in the politics of their country of birth.”

The new e-ballot will require expats wanting to vote to make an electronic or written application to a returning officer six months before the end of the Indian Parliament.

How expat voting works

The returning officer will verify their identity and then send out electronic ballot papers over a secure gateway that can only be accessed with a login identity and password.

The electronic ballot paper is then printed off and returned to the returning officer by post.

However, the voter must have their identity verified on the ballot paper by a witness for the vote to count in the election.

Many countries are allowing more expats to vote, although some, like Britain, rescind the right after a time limit away from the country is passed.

A further application from Dr Vayalil for migrant workers and armed forces personnel posted overseas to also have an electronic vote is under consideration.

Migrant workers comprise around a third of the Indian electorate.

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