In the upcoming elections in five states, including Delhi, voters who aren’t happy with candidates in the fray will have the right to reject all of them — by punching a ‘none-of-the-above’ (NOTA) button on the voting machine.
In a landmark verdict to empower voters, the Supreme Court on Friday directed the Election Commission (EC) to provide for the NOTA option in electronic voting machines (EVMs). Votersi identities would be kept secret and their votes counted, though it wouldn’t affect the outcome of the contest as the candidate with the maximum votes would be elected.
Within hours, the EC issued directions to make the necessary change on EVMs and ballot papers — which come into play when the number of candidates in a constituency is above 64 — and directed the chief electoral officers of states to include the NOTA vote tally in the final election results.
This is the latest in a series of SC verdicts on electoral reforms, including disqualification of convicted legislators.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam, said it was imperative to give voters ‘negative voting’ rights as this would compel parties to field “sound” candidate and encourage more people to come out and vote. If MPs have the option to “abstain” during voting in Parliament, the same privilege should be extended to voters, it said.
India is now the 14th country in the world to allow secret negative voting. Though the present system allows a voter to exercise the option of not casting his/her vote for any contesting candidate, it doesn’t keep his/her identity a secret. The person’s name is recorded in a register by EC officials.
However, the SC verdict — which came on a 2004 petition filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties — is silent on what happens if the majority of the electorate in a constituency goes for the NOTA option.
Expressing this very concern, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said, “I think it is unworkable. What happens if voters even in 20 constituencies cast negative votes rejecting all candidates? How will Parliament be constituted and how will a government be formed?”
But many other welcomed the move. “It will be a great step in the direction of further electoral reforms that can make our democracy even more vibrant and participative,” the BJP’s Narendra Modi said in his blog post.
“This would give a voice to the voiceless,” said constitutional expert Rajeev Dhawan.
Senior advocate Harish Salve said he hoped the government would accept the verdict in letter and spirit, adding: “While the SC is trying to make the electoral process more transparent, our government seems to be running counter by brazenly bringing in ordinances.”