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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Army seeks changes in proxy voting norms

Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI

The Army wants proxy voting rights for its officers and jawans to be extended to their wives, many of whom live in Army family stations that are located too far away for them to travel to their homes to vote. While granting proxy voting rights to over 13 lakh members of the armed forces in September last year, the Government had excluded their wives from nominating a person from the same constituency to vote on their behalf.

By official accounts, the Army is actively encouraging its personnel to register themselves as `service voters' that will entitle them to nominate another eligible voter from their constituency to vote on their behalf. However, after receiving feedback from the first experience with proxy voting during the Assembly elections to five States last year, senior Army officers have got in touch with Election Commission (EC) officials.

Apart from seeking proxy voting rights for wives, the Army has sought the waiver of fees for authenticating the signatures of proxies. It also wants faster movement of postal ballots by the civilian postal network so that ballots reach service voters in time.

Posted far away from their place of residence, service personnel had voted through postal ballots in the previous 13 general elections. The procedure was cumbersome and, though statistics are hard to come by, it is believed that few personnel exercised their right to vote through this mode. One reason was the slow postal service due to a large number of intermediate civil postal offices handling them. Sometimes, their votes reached the returning officers (ROs) after counting had ended, thus rendering them inconsequential.

With the Government permitting proxy voting in September last year, some defence personnel voted through proxy in the elections to the five State Assemblies.

The coming general elections offers the first big opportunity for the 13.60 lakh defence personnel to vote through proxies who must be voters registered in the same constituency where the service member had been enrolled.

The Army, the biggest of the three services with 12 lakh personnel, has already sent over eight lakh applications from its men to the returning officers for registration as `service voters'.

Election officers nominated by the EC have sent back nearly two lakh `acknowledgments', Major General K.P.D. Samantha Dhal told newspersons here. (The EC has clarified that persons who have not sent the requisite form can also nominate proxies.)

The next step would be for the soldier to appoint an eligible voter in his constituency as proxy by filling Form 13 F, which will be countersigned by his commanding officer and sent to the proxy. The proxy, in turn, will sign this form in front of a first class magistrate or notary, submit the requisite fee and submit it to the returning officer for endorsement in the electoral rolls.

The Army's understanding is that the endorsement can be made even a day before the polls. Gen. Dhal admitted that the process appeared cumbersome and said the Army was in touch with the civil authorities to make it easier. The postal services were also being asked to speed up postal mail and the Army Postal Service had been asked not to hold back postal ballots for more than 24 hours. "We want all the eligible [Service] voters to cast their votes by all available means. We are looking for feedback to remove bottlenecks," he said.

"We want soldiers to use all available means to exercise their franchise. To this end we are educating them through special conferences,'' Gen. Dhal said. Asked about the possibility of organised gangs attempting to corner the proxy votes, he said, "this possibility is not peculiar to servicemen's families. Soldiers are part of the country and are likely to face problems just like other citizens.''

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