Vote bank politics is a commonly bandied about expression in the election season, which is no surprise. But a new vote bank of Armed Forces personnel is now looking a step closer to reality with the Supreme Court directing the Election Commission (EC) to allow defence personnel to vote as general voters in peace stations. This is somewhat unusual. The Supreme Court merely reiterated the law it laid down in an earlier judgment in 1971, though the circumstances of that case were somewhat different. The Representation of the People Act, 1950 defines the term ‘ordinarily resident’ in Section 20, a qualification required to get registered as a voter. Armed forces personnel are among the few categories of people defined as persons with ‘service qualification’ in Section 20(8) and are given a special dispensation in Section 20(3) and Section 20(5). This category can declare while living at a place ‘ordinarily resident’ status at another place where they would have normally lived, if it were not for the exigencies of service. Implicit faith was to be placed on their declaration and they would be registered at the place they indicated as their place of ordinary residence, most likely their native place, and as a corollary the place of their posting could not be their ordinary place of residence.
In a matter arising from the Nagaland Assembly Election in 1969, the court did not accept the argument that for service personnel, the place of posting cannot ipso facto be the place of residence. Instead, the declaration of the Assam Rifles personnel, who had spent 10 years in one location claiming it as a place of ordinary residence under Section 20(5), wherein but for their service qualification also they would have been ordinarily resident and not merely because of it, found favour with the Court. The Court declared that the statutory fiction in Section 20(3) gave the right to the personnel to claim registration at their home town or village but “the fiction cannot take away the right of persons possessing service qualification to get themselves registered at a constituency in which they are actually residing though such place happens to be their place of service.”
The law gave a special dispensation to a service voter in that his declaration designating a place as his place of ordinary residence and certified by his organisation was not to be questioned by the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) but simply accepted. It was intended to avoid the delay in registration if an enquiry were to be done independently by the ERO as in the case of ordinary voters.
Full Article: Voting while in the Army – The Hindu.