Supreme Court okays 'Right to Reject' or 'None of the Above' (NOTA) option for voters

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In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court has held that citizens have right to cast negative vote rejecting all candidates contesting polls guaranteeing them their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under article 19(1) (a) of Indian Constitution. No sooner this verdict was announced than the ripples in its favor and against was heard throughout the nation. People who have foreseen it as a fair electoral reform so far by Election Commission (EC) acclaimed it to skies and people and political parties who are in a fix that this would dig their grave in elections raised hues and cries.

The ‘right to reject’ came into wake after a PIL filed in 2004 by an NGO, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which had submitted that voters be given the right to negative voting.

Note: There is confusion between the terms "right to reject" (RTR) and "none of the above" (NOTA), with media sources frequently using them synonymously. RTR is a campaign by AAM AADAMI PARTY (AAP) hitherto it says if majority of plurality is in favor of RTR, then a re-election has to be held and where as NOTA is abstaining from voting in someone’s favor. Those NOTA votes will simply not count towards election outcome.

None of the Above (NOTA)

Also known as against all or a scratch vote, it is a ballot option in some jurisdictions or organizations, which is very similar to the right given to parliamentarians in opting to press the button for abstaining while voting takes place in the House. This was designed to allow the voter to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in a voting system. It is based on the principle that consent requires the ability to withhold consent in an election, just as they can by voting no on ballot questions.

This concept of NOTA is not new and prevalent in 13 countries so far. India did make use of this privilege but restricted to both the houses of the parliament only. Quoting from the horse’s mouth, Justice Sathasivam said, "Democracy is all about choices and voters will be empowered by this right of negative voting. Negative voting will send a clear signal to political parties and candidates as to what the voters think about them."

To effect this change Election commission just needs to add a new Button in Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) - "No Vote",pressing of which will register that voter's decision to not to cast his/her vote in favour of any candidate contesting election from his/her constituency. This vote will have symbolic value as, upon countig, it will reflect the mood of voters regarding the political situation in the country and their their belief in Indian democracy.

The SC also says "right to reject a candidate is a fundamental right" however, the right to vote remains a statutory right. By cross examining the verdict, the positives and negatives that one has to be clear with are:

Pros:

  • Foster purity and vibrancy of elections: The eternal dream of each individual is served, as democracy is all about making choices as one wish to
  • Ensure wide participation: As people who are not satisfied with the candidates in the fray would also turn up to express their opinion rejecting contestants.
  • Clean candidates: The political parties will now be forced to project clean candidates in polls. And adding fuel to this fire, SC is also in a thought to make the verdict final in not allowing candidates with criminal records. So, political parties shall go into perfect scrutinization before announcing final list of candidates.
  • Proper governance of the country: It is clearly understood that when houses of parliament and assemblies are filled with sound candidates then invariably it accounts for good governance.
  • Effective political participation: In the present state of the democratic system this is a much needed verdict accounting for effective political participation.

Cons:

  • Prevalence of illiteracy: The nation still has significant numbers of illiterates. So such a reform may add confusion without prior awareness.
  • Declining of voter participation: This reform also have chances of decreasing voter participation count as already India is a victim of this. A tendency of touch-me-not develops among voters and making them abstain from coming to polling booths in the first place before casting NOTA.

Criticism:

1. Negative voting: As said earlier, people who are against this, are propagating it to be negative voting but in true sense it is a positive voting in negating candidates as one feels.

2. Majority of plurality: The SC has not made it clear what will happen when NOTA gets maximum votes than others.

3. Essence of elections: The Centre had opposed the proposal. It contended that an election is meant to elect and not to reject. It also argued that including a rejection button will confuse voters and will not serve any purpose.

This verdict may come into action in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram - where Assembly elections are due in November, giving voters right to reject option. Everyone individual of this nation like any other should wait and see how this judgment shall mark its token of change in the nation.

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