NOTA- The Election game-changer

This article has been written by Prithiv Raj Sahu, a student of KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar (4th year). He can be reached on the LinkedIn account (https://www.linkedin.com/in/prithiv-raj-sahu-4b6994192). Picture credits to NDTV

Introduction

NOTA, or “None of the above”, is the option which enables the voter to officially register a vote of rejection for all candidates who are contesting. If a voter chooses to press NOTA it indicates that the voter has not chosen to vote for any of the party. It has been provided as an option to the voters of India in most elections since 2009. In India, in 2009, the election commission of India asked the Supreme Court to offer the voter NOTA option at the ballot as it would give voters the freedom of not selecting any undeserving candidate. The government was not in favour of such an idea.

The peoples union for civil liberties which is an NGO filed a public interest litigation statement to favour NOTA. Finally on 27 September 2013, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the right to register a “none of the above” vote in elections should apply, while ordering the Election Commission to provide a button for the same in the electronic voting machines. The NOTA vote does not matter in the election, so if nota gets majority nothing happens and the person with more votes will win. Since its introduction, NOTA has gained increasing popularity amongst the Indian electorate, securing more votes than the victory margin, for instance, in the Assembly Elections in Gujarat 2017, Karnataka (2018), Madhya Pradesh (2018)  and Rajasthan (2018).

The ECI introduced a particular symbol for ‘None of the above’ option to allow the voters to exercise NOTA. This symbol appears in the last panel on all Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). ECI has stated that even if, in any extreme case, the number of votes against NOTA is more than the number of votes secured by the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes among the contesting candidates shall be declared to be elected. In a clarification released in 2013, ECI has stated that votes polled for NOTA cannot be considered for determining the forfeiture of security deposit.  In 2014, ECI introduced NOTA in Rajya Sabha elections. In 2015, Election Commission of India announced the symbol for ‘None of the above’ option, with the design being done by National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad.

Positives of the NOTA system

Although there are lots of negative points about ‘None of the above’ option in elections to voters, the positive points also cannot be ignored. The very intention of the Supreme Court of India was to force the political parties to project candidates with clean background as their candidates. The candidates who win the election become part of the legislature, governing the country. It was, therefore, felt mandatory that candidates with criminal or immoral or unclean backgrounds are deterred from contesting the elections. If this option of ‘None of the above’ is implemented with its true intent, the whole political scenario of the country will drastically change from the present scenario.

Negatives of the NOTA system

Some of the countries, who initially introduced such option to the voters, later discontinued or abolished the system. In countries where voting machines contain a NOTA button, there are chances of it receiving a majority of the vote and hence “winning” the election. In such a case, Election Commission may opt any of these options

a) Keep the office vacant,

b) Fill office by appointment,

c) Hold another election. The State of Nevada, in such a situation, has a policy of no effect whatsoever and the next highest total wins.

Legal Provisions in India

What is rule 49-O? And how is it different from NOTA?

According to Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 rule 49-O says that “Elector deciding not to vote.-If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.” The difference between 49-O and NOTA is that 49-O does not provide secrecy. The Section 49 (O) stood annulled after the SC cleared the NOTA provision. It gave the poll officials a chance to find out the reason behind the rejection of a candidate through the voter’s remarks in Form 17A. Through NOTA, the officials cannot find out the reason for the rejection. Moreover, it protects the identity of a voter, thus keeping the concept of secret balloting intact.

Invalidation of Rule 49-O

In judgement of 27 September, 2013, the Supreme Court directed that the Election Commission should make necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs for “None of the Above (NOTA)” option so that the electors who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates can exercise their right not to vote for any candidate without violation of the secrecy of their decision. Rules 41 (2), 41(3) and 49-O of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, were held to be ultra vires Section 128 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. On 11 October 2013, the Election Commission released a notification declaring that the NOTA option would be provided on voting machines and the option under rule 49-O would not be available any longer.

Conclusion

Voting lets you express your opinion during elections by giving the opportunity of voting to him/her. This right will allow neutral choice while voting. Importance of NOTA can be noted when the voter doesn’t want to anyone or finds no candidates who deserve to be elected. Voter’s contribution is crucial in a democratic nation like India. Presenting NOTA can help in catching increment in the percentage of votes. Not voting at all causes dissatisfaction and lack of engagement, which is definitely not a solid indication of a growing democratic country. The importance of NOTA is that it is alternative to no vote at all and NOTA alternative gives the voter the privilege to express his or her objection towards the participating candidates. At the point when the candidates will understand the numbers of citizens who are not happy with them or doesn’t find the right candidate for handling the nation.

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