Should voters have the option of a negative vote — rejecting all the candidates in an election?
A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice BN Agrawal on Monday referred the issue, raised by the People’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and DMK leader Era Sezhiyan, to the Chief Justice of India for placing it before a larger bench i.e. a Constitution Bench.
The Constitution Bench will examine whether a voter’s right to exercise choice for candidate is integral to his/her fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
Noting that the Constitution Bench’s 2006 verdict in Kundeep Nayar Vs. Union of India left some scope for doubt if the right to vote was a mere statutory right or a fundamental right, the court said, “… this issue needs a clear exposition of law by a larger bench.”
The larger bench will also examine the “width and amplitude” of the Election Commission’s power under Article 324 in the light of the court’s two earlier verdicts, recognising the voters’ right to be informed about the assets and antecedents of candidates.
In its petition filed in 2004, PUCL sought directions to the government and the poll panel for creating “non-of-the-above” option in ballot papers or electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Stating that many states in the US had given such a right to the voters, PUCL said it would help check criminalisation of politics.
Contending that right to vote in secrecy included the right of negative voting, PUCL counsel Sanjay Parikh had earlier requested the court to make necessary changes in the conduct of election rules, and ask the poll panel to make appropriate provisions in the EVMs to enable negative voting in secrecy.