The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting the elections, saying it would go a long way in cleansing the political system of the country.
In yet another electoral reform, the apex court directed the Election Commission to have an option of ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and ballot papers, which can be used by voters to reject all candidates contesting the polls.
So far, people casting negative votes were required to enter their names in a register and cast their vote on a separate paper ballot.
But now the secrecy of votes cast under the NOTA category must be maintained by the EC, the court said.
The order will be effective in the assembly elections to be announced soon in five states.
However, a senior EC official said the NOTA option would not impact the results of the elections.
“The ‘none of the above’ option on EVMs has no electoral value,” said the EC official.
“Even if the maximum number of votes cast is for NOTA, the candidate getting the most of the remaining votes would be declared winner.”
The court said negative voting would encourage even people who are not satisfied with any of the candidates to turn up to express their opinion and reject all contestants.
“Negative voting will lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. If the right to vote is a statutory right, then the right to reject candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under the Constitution,” said a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam.
The court passed the order on a PIL filed in 2004 by an NGO, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which had submitted that voters be given the right to negative voting.
The bench also pointed out that the system of negative voting existed in 13 countries. Even in the Parliament of India, the MPs have the option to abstain during a vote, the court observed.
The right to vote for no candidate is defined under Section 49 (O) of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961, but was not effective as the government did not agree to amend the rules. Under the rules, a voter who does not want to cast his vote had to fill a form and cast his or her vote on a separate paper ballot.
Since 2004, the EC had been asking the government to change the rules to provide a negative vote option on the EVMs.
Former chief election commissioner Navin Chawla welcomed the order and said it was a huge step in improving the electoral system. Former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi said the order would give a legal stamp to the commission’s demand of providing a negative voting option on the EVMs.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also welcomed the Supreme Court order. “This move will bring a change leading to an opportunity for deserving candidates to contest polls,” said AAP member Shazia Ilmi.
The Supreme Court in the past two months has issued several orders on electoral reforms, including disqualification of MPs and MLAs who get convicted of crimes and not allowing persons in police custody to contest.