The Postal Ballot Predicament

The recent declaration by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), that only specified group of voters can cast their votes through postal ballots in the upcoming parliamentary elections, has left most National Council aspirants and the electorate worried.

It has been stated that ECB will not extend postal ballot services to Bhutanese working in State Owned Enterprises, private companies and those living abroad, leaving a major chunk of the voter populace out in the cold.  

The ECB has said that they will provide postal ballot services only to eligible voters covered under Section 331 of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008 during the upcoming National Council (NC) elections,

Section 331 of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008 states, among others, that voters may, notwithstanding anything contained in section 330, be cast by post or online by diplomats and persons working in embassies of Bhutan abroad.

Further, the section states that postal ballot facilities will only be extended to individuals on special government duty residing outside the country, members of the armed forces, individuals on election duty, civil servants, and students and trainees.  

However, while Bhutanese students studying abroad including those who fall under the categories covered by Section 331 of the Election Act will be eligible, those who had obtained permanent residence and green cards are not eligible.

To rub salt to the wound, the system of voting through the Postal Ballot Facilitation Booths will also be discontinued in the upcoming parliamentary elections. 

These measures adopted by the ECB completely beats the purpose of digitization and reaping the best of modern technological advances which are suppose to enhance people’s lives and help save valuable time and resources.

And, more significantly, a vast majority of the electorate who work in the private and corporate sector are now at a crossroad as to whether partake in the upcoming NC elections as bulk of them reside in urban centers while they have their census registered in their native villages. This will have a huge bearing on the overall voter turnout as travelling all the way to their hometowns, after incurring huge expenditures, are simply not palpable. 

In addition, a large chunk of Bhutanese living in countries like Australia, the Middle-east and the US will be deprived of their voting rights since only registered students are eligible. The postal ballot registration forms for those residing overseas also do not consider dependents.  

Past elections, especially the 2018 parliamentary elections saw one of the highest voter turnout as the ECB facilitated voters by allowing even the private sector to vote through postal ballots while Facilitation Booths were also instrumental in the rise in the overall turnout.

Instead of facilitating our citizens and encouraging them to actively partake in the elections, it would be very unbecoming of the ECB if they are to make it more rigid for the electorate.

It wouldn’t be anything of a surprise if we are to see the lowest voter turnout in the upcoming parliamentary elections this year, because a stage has been set where not many are keen to partake in the process given the unfriendly circumstances.