Armed forces’ voting rights to be discussed with poll panel

June 15th, 2008 - 1:41 pm ICT by IANS  

By Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, June 15 (IANS) India’s defence ministry will take up the issue of voting rights of armed forces personnel with the Election Commission to remove anomalies in the postal ballot and proxy voting systems that often result in their exclusion from the poll process. A majority of Indian armed forces personnel have never voted during their service tenure. And with Lok Sabha elections due next year, armed forces personnel expect the issue to be resolved as soon as possible.

“We have been getting a lot of complaints from soldiers as they have been unable to cast their votes. We will soon hold a meeting with the Election Commission in this regard,” Minister of State for Defence M. Pallam Raju told IANS.

Theoretically, soldiers can vote through postal ballots or by proxy - but there are deficiencies in both systems.

The postal ballot system has proved inadequate and inefficient due to the long delays involved in sending out voting sheets to the different towns where defence personnel are posted.

In the case of border posts, the delays are even more acute.

The voting sheets have to be filled in and sent back to the respective returning officers before the counting process begins - but this rarely happens on time.

“I have never voted during my 16 years of service. During the last general election, I received my postal ballot well after the new government was formed,” an air force officer said on condition of anonymity.

According to sources in the Army Postal Service, in the Southern Command, the biggest in the army and one that has eight states and three union territories under its jurisdiction, only 23,000 serving personnel of the three services exercised their franchise through the postal ballot in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

In September 2003, parliament had approved the proxy voting system for armed forces personnel whereby they could authorise a family member - usually a parent or a sibling or a spouse - to cast their vote by proxy.

This system draws heavily from that prevailing in Britain but has proved to be ineffective because soldiers do not even know the provision exists.

“The matter will be looked into during the meeting with Election Commission officials. A decision (on streamlining the system) will be taken well before the next elections,” Raju said.

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