With the announcement of latest round of assembly elections, discussions surrounding NOTA have once again come to the fore. The last option on the electronic voting machine carries a symbol of a big, fat cross mark to denote “none of the above”, or NOTA. It was designed by Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design.
What is NOTA?
The Supreme Court, in September 2013, 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. The EVMs have the NOTA option at the end of the candidates’ list and a NOTA vote doesn’t require the involvement of the presiding officer. In 2009, the Election Commission of India had asked the Supreme Court to offer this option on electoral ballots, but the government had opposed to it.
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.
Why NOTA would make a little or no difference?
In its landmark judgment in September 2013 ordering the inclusion of the NOTA option, the Supreme Court had clarified that a NOTA count would not invalidate an election and the highest-polling candidate would be declared elected. With this, the voter only gets a method to register discontent.
Why have NOTA if there’s ‘no electoral value’?
NOTA gives people dissatisfied with contesting candidates an opportunity to express their disapproval. This, in turn, increases the chances of more people turning up to cast their votes, even if they do not support any candidate, and decreases the count of bogus votes. Also, the Supreme Court has observed that negative voting could bring about “a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates”.
Why NOTA is good?
- NOTA option will force the political parties to select the honest candidates, i.e with no criminal records.
- NOTA ensures people’s ‘right to freedom of speech and expression’.
- The disadvantage of 49-O will be overcome with the implementation of NOTA.
- This will increase the polling percentage.
Why it is bad?
- Even if majority people vote for NOTA, the next highest majority candidate will be elected. So, in the strictest sense it does not give any chance to reject or disqualify candidates.
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.
Though NOTA option has no effect on the results, it is definitely a good step because it gives people the right to express their opinion regarding the contestants. It would also lead to decriminalization of politics. Hence, NOTA should be considered as the first step in the right direction.