What is NOTA?
In 2009, the Election Commission (EC) had told the Supreme Court that it wishes to give the option of NOTA (None Of The Above) to voters. Four years later, the apex court ruled that voters have a right to choose none of the contesting candidates or parties on the electoral ballot while still being able to register their votes.
In the 2014 general elections, there was 1.1% of NOTA votes.
Opting for the none of the above button on the EVM was floated by the apex court as a “voter’s right to reject”.
Why is it not really a “right to reject”?
NOTA replaced Section 49 (O) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 which mandated voters to state the reason to the polling officer for deciding not to vote.
However, former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi is of the opinion that NOTA does not mean a “right to reject” and won’t have any effect on election results because such votes are considered invalid and the candidate with the maximum votes is still declared the winner.
In an opinion piece in The Indian Express, Quraishi said, “Even if there are 99 NOTA votes out of a total of 100, and candidate X gets just one vote, X is the winner, having obtained the only valid vote. The rest will be treated as invalid or no votes.”
Therefore, NOTA is not a “right to reject” but to ensure secrecy, unlike in the former Section 49 (O). It gives people a chance like in the case of ballot voting where they would put blank slips in the ballot or stamp it more than once to make it invalid. Such votes were counted but rejected and had no effect on the election result.
After EVMs were introduced in 1998, that secrecy or privacy ensured to voters was taken away since the machine gave a loud beep after a person cast her vote, unlike in ballot voting. No beep would mean non-voting. Introduction of a button where a candidate would cast her vote, without actually voting for any candidate was a move in the right direction. Pressing the NOTA button would also give the loud beep without revealing the nature of the vote.
What is really the use of NOTA?
SY Quraishi opines that “NOTA is the voters’ right to register a negative complaint.”
“It is significant that the Supreme Court has gone to the extent of raising negative voting to the status of a fundamental right. Not allowing a person to cast vote negatively, it says, defeats the very freedom of expression and the right ensured in Article 21, that is, the right to liberty,” he wrote in The Indian Express.
The former chief of election commission said, citing the SC’s order, the only use of NOTA is that it would put pressure on political parties to nominate only good candidates.
“My personal feeling, though, is that expecting moral pressure to work on political parties is far too optimistic, given their stubborn refusal to debar tainted candidates from contesting, despite a public hue and cry for two decades,” opines Quraishi. He thinks that NOTA is not the best option but has paved the way for it. The government and the Parliament need to bring more comprehensive electoral reforms, per the former chief of EC.