“NO VOTE” - A power to vote
by Vinod Bansal on 05 Dec 2008 3 Comments

In the current assembly elections in some states, many citizens felt that the candidates in the fray in their respective constituencies “did not qualify to become their representative(s).” The incompetence and dishonesty of politicians often frustrates voters greatly. The voter is very disgusted at the behaviour of politicians, and does not see anything going right. Yet we really do not have any option and have to vote.

In this scenario, there is an urgent need to incorporate the option of “no vote” in order to register one’s dissent against the declining standards of the political class.

"I came here only to register my presence. I did not vote because I think no candidate has the quality to represent us," said a 65-year-old citizen on reaching a polling booth in New Delhi on 29 November. The option of “No Voting” is required to register one’s protest against the lack of a qualified candidate.

The right to elect should encompass the right to reject a candidate. The concept of a negative vote is not unknown to law. The veto power exercised by the members of the Security Council, the vote of no-confidence in Parliament, and issue-based referendums, are instances where the exercise of a negative vote is recognised. Often, lack of choice results in colossal voter apathy, expressed either in the form of invalid votes, or by not going to the polling station at all.

What is NO VOTE ?

In a particular constituency, if a voter dislikes all candidates contesting, he can show his rejection by registering under Rule 49-O.

Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 states that if a person decides not to record his vote, then the presiding officer shall make a remark to that effect against his name in the register of voters, and obtain the latter's signature or thumb impression against such remark.

If the rejections exceed the number of votes polled, a re-election is ordered, but the rejected candidates do not have the right to contest again.

Serious Violation of Secret Ballot:

Since the 49-O voter is required to sign a form or put his thumb impression, his identity is automatically revealed even to the polling agents of different contestants. This happens as the electronic ballot does not have a button to encompass the “No Vote” provision. Thus, the Rule flagrantly violates the principle of secret ballot, the contravention of which is an offence punishable with three months imprisonment under Section 128 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Moreover, most presiding officers are unaware of this Rule.

In the previous system of voting with the conventional ballot paper and ballot boxes, an elector could drop the empty ballot paper (without marking his vote against any candidate) if he so wished. But in the format using Electronic Voting Machines, such a facility is not available to the voter and the secrecy of his vote is not protected anymore.

New option in EVM must:

At the end of the list of contesting candidates in the EVMs, a new button - None of the Above – could serve the purpose of facilitating negative or neutral voting, and maintaining the secrecy of the ballot.

The Election Commission has recommended the inclusion of "none of the above" button in the EVMs. The proposal states that if more than 50 per cent of the voters opt for the "none of the above" choice, then the election shall be cancelled. In the event of re-election, these rejected candidates will be barred from contesting and the "none of the above" option shall be removed for the sake of conclusiveness.

The Chief Election Commissioner sent letters to the Centre in this regard in 2001, and again in 2004, but so fare the Central Government has not found the time to decide on this fundamental right of citizens.

The new option, in the long run, is expected to filter out unworthy candidates (with criminal record and so on) and achieve fuller participation of the electorate in the poll process. When voters have the opportunity to show their dissent by casting votes of disapproval, there will be less chance of such vices as impersonation and booth-capturing rearing their ugly heads.

NO VOTE is really a power to vote.

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