NOTA to finally count as choice? Maharashtra poll panel considers re-elections
Municipal bodies in Maharashtra may soon be asked to hold re-elections if the majority of voters choose the None of the Above, or NOTA, option during local self-government elections. So far, the NOTA option does not affect the outcome of an election directly.
If approved, the State Election Commission’s (SEC) decision would apply to local body elections that it conducts — gram panchayats, zilla parishads (district councils) and municipal bodies governing all cities.
“We have sought a legal opinion to check provisions in the existing law,” said state election commissioner JS Saharia, adding that the SEC would announce its decision in the coming weeks.
The panel began considering the idea after it came across several cases where the NOTA option got a lot more votes than the winning candidates — in some instances, more than 80% of the total votes. In February this year, Maharashtra governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao had also pressed for the need to consider NOTA’s role in the polling system more seriously. This demand was seconded by political parties and NGOs in meetings on electoral reforms called by the SEC a few months ago.
In a report published in March, Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO that works on political and electoral reforms, has also recommended re-elections in constituencies with highest NOTA votes.
When the SEC studied local body elections over the past two years, it found that in the Bori gram panchayat polls in the Pune district, NOTA polled 85.57% votes; in the Mankarwadi gram panchayat polls in same district, 204 of a total 330 valid votes went to NOTA. The sarpanch of Khugaon Khurd in Nanded district got just 120 votes while NOTA had got 627 of the total 849 votes. Similarly, in a local election in the Khavadi village in Lanja tehsil, the winning candidate got 130 votes of 441 valid votes, while NOTA polled 210 votes.
While NGOs suggested candidates getting fewer votes than NOTA be debarred from re-elections, the SEC is not in favour of this as it may raise questions about the fundamental rights of candidates. SEC officials are of the opinion that such a change may also need an amendment of the existing laws.
“Maharashtra would be the first state to bring in this reform if the SEC implements it,” said Major General (Retd) Anil Verma of ADR. “In the current system, voters feel their votes are wasted in the absence of due importance being given to NOTA.”
The SEC also feels that the decision would help it weed out a contradictory circular by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in 2013. “The Supreme Court, in its order making NOTA compulsory in 2013, had said negative voting allows a voter to cast a vote in favour of any fictional candidate/name, but a circular issued by the ECI said NOTA is not a candidate and votes polled by it should not be taken into consideration while counting the votes,” said on election panel official. “This contradiction has been prevailing for the past five years, and we hope it gets corrected by this decision,” the officer said.