10 things to know about NOTA — a voter's right to reject

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
May 14, 2014 02:45 PM IST

The Supreme Court in September last year upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting the elections, saying it would go a long way in cleansing the political system. Here's all you need to know about NOTA.

What is NOTA?
The Supreme Court, in September last year, 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. 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 in a major electoral reform.

How is a NOTA vote cast?
The EVMs have the NOTA option at the end of the candidates' list. Earlier, in order to cast a negative ballot, a voter had to inform the presiding officer at the polling booth. A NOTA vote doesn't require the involvement of the presiding officer.

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When was NOTA first used in India; how did it fare?
The NOTA option was first used in the assembly elections held in five states last year. More than 15 lakh people exercised the option in the states polls. The figure, however, was lower than 1.5% of the total voters. Around 50,000 voters opted for NOTA in Delhi; 3.56 lakh in Chhattisgarh; 5.9 lakh in Madhya Pradesh and 5.67 lakh in Rajasthan.

There was a similar provision before NOTA. What was it?
Before the NOTA option came in existence, people casting negative votes were required to enter their names in a register and cast their vote on a separate paper ballot.

Under Section 49 (O) of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, a voter could enter his electoral serial number in Form 17A and cast a negative vote. The presiding officer would then put a remark in the form and get it signed by the voter. This was done to prevent fraud or misuse of votes.

This provision was, however, deemed unconstitutional by the SC as it did not protect the identity of the voter.

What difference does NOTA make?
A senior EC official said the NOTA option would not impact the results of the elections. "The NOTA option on EVMs has no electoral value. 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 EC official told HT.

Why have NOTA if there's 'no electoral value'?
The SC said negative voting would even encourage 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 a candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under the Constitution," said a bench headed by then Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam.

The bench also pointed out that the system of negative voting existed in several other countries. Even in Parliament, the MPs have the option to abstain during a vote.

How are 49(O) and NOTA different?
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.

Which other countries allow NOTA?
Colombia, Ukraine, Brazil, Bangladesh, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Chile, France, Belgium and Greece allow their voters to cast NOTA votes. The US also allows it in a few cases. The state of Texas in the US permits the provision since 1975. The option, however, has faced opposition there.

NOTA cleared, politicians want compulsory voting now
Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi and LK Advani, welcomed the NOTA provision. They, however, asked for another 'electoral reform'. Both leaders said voting should be made mandatory.

"Voters, who without any legitimate justification, have not been exercising the valuable right of franchise the Indian Constitution has conferred on them have, unwittingly thus, been casting a negative vote against all the contesting candidates without intending to do so," Advani wrote in a blog.

"I hold, therefore, that a negative vote would become really meaningful if it is accompanied also by the introduction of mandatory voting," he added.

Using 'NOTA', in a lighter vein
Having withdrawn from the contest for the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat as the AAP candidate Savita Bhatti, comedian Jaspal Bhatti's widow and actor, recently floated the 'NOTA Party' with a wad of currency notes being its election symbol. Bhatti said the party was inspired by the NOTA option given to voters.

"With every party claiming to target corruption, we are wondering where the corrupt will go? So we have decided that our party will offer a platform to only the corrupt. They are highly skilled and people with great networking. So their strengths need to be utilised," Savita took a dig at the launch.

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