What is NOTA in EVM? How is a NOTA vote cast?

In September 2013, the Supreme Court had ordered that all Indian voters should be given an option to choose ‘None of the Above’ popularly known as NOTA if they do not wish to vote for any of the candidates who are contesting for elections in that particular location.

What is NOTA?

None Of The Above (NOTA) has been provided by Supreme Court last year as an option to the voters of India in most elections. Through this option on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), a citizen can choose not to vote for any candidate contesting the elections.

Where is NOTA placed in EVM?

The NOTA button is placed below the buttons assigned for each of the candidates. In Ballot papers, NOTA comes below the name-list of all the candidates who are contesting the elections, hence the name None of ‘The Above’.

NOTA’s origin

Supreme Court on a Judgement to the writ petition filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said, “We direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called “None of the Above” (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy.”

The Supreme Court also observed that it is essential that people of high moral and ethical values are chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country, and NOTA button can compel political parties to nominate a sound candidate.

How did the NOTA’s first use fare in India?

The NOTA option was first used in the assembly elections held in five states last year. More than 15 lakh people exercised the option in the polls of the state. The figure, however, was lower than 1.5% of the total voters. Around 50,000 voters opted for NOTA in Delhi; 3.56 lakh in Chhattisgarh; 5.9 lakh in Madhya Pradesh and 5.67 lakh in Rajasthan.

What happens if a NOTA wins?

If the number of votes against NOTA is more than the number of votes secured by the candidates, i.e if all the candidates lose to NOTA, Election Commission of India said that “the candidate who secures the largest number of votes among the contesting candidates shall be declared as the winner”.

For example, if 98 of 100 voters in a particular constituency chose NOTA and one candidate gets 2 votes, he will be declared as a winner.

Performance of NOTA so far

In many elections held so far, NOTA has won more votes than many political parties who contested. In many constituencies, votes received by NOTA has been higher than the margin by which the candidate has won. Observations have been made that NOTA can influence more citizens to participate in voting, though there is a danger that the novelty factor associated with NOTA will gradually erode.

Does NOTA make a difference? 

No, the NOTA option doesn’t impact the results of elections. A senior EC official had said, “The NOTA option on EVMs has no electoral value. Even if the maximum number of votes cast is for NOTA, the candidate getting the most of the remaining votes would be declared a winner,”.

Why have NOTA when there is ‘no’ electoral value?

The Supreme Court said that the NOTA would even encourage people who are not satisfied with any of the candidates to turn up to express their opinion and reject all contestants.

“Negative voting will lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. If the right to vote is a statutory right, then the right to reject a candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under the Constitution,” said a bench headed by then Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam.

Pros of NOTA

The Supreme Court of India introduced NOTA with an intention that the political parties would make candidates with a clean background and mentality to contest for elections. When there was no NOTA, the voter had to compulsorily vote one of the candidates contesting the election. With NOTA he can at least show his dissent by not voting the contesting candidates. It was, therefore, felt mandatory that candidates with criminal or immoral or unclean backgrounds are deterred from contesting the elections. If the ‘None of the above’ option is implemented with its true intent, the whole political scenario of the country will drastically change from the present scenario.

Cons of NOTA

Some of the countries who initially introduced such option to the voters, later discontinued or abolished the system. In countries where voting machines contain a NOTA button, there are chances of it receiving a majority of the vote and hence “winning” the election. In such a case, Election Commission may opt any of these options, a ) the second highest votes will be declared as the winner b) keep the office vacant, c) fill the office by appointment, d) hold another election. Hence as there is an absence of a proper mechanism, this cannot be regarded as a proper solution to the problem we are facing in the world’s largest democracy. The new provision does not mean that all candidates in a constituency stand rejected or defeated if the number of NOTA votes exceeds the number garnered by the highest vote-getter.

Role of NOTA in Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017

Gujarat has registered the second highest None of The Above (NOTA) votes of 1.8% in the State and Union Territory assembly elections since 2015, while Bihar tops the list with 2.48% votes.

The None of the Above (NOTA) option polled 1.8% of the total votes in Gujarat. In a largely bipolar election, this did have an effect, but not as substantive as a preliminary look would indicate.

Suggestions on NOTA

There have been discussions to improve on NOTA, and to empower the voter through NOTA. Some of those suggested improvements include:
1. If NOTA receives the highest number of votes, re-elections should be held in that constituency.
2. If the votes received by NOTA is higher than a certain percent, re-election to be held.
3. When conducting re-elections, the NOTA button may be disabled to avoid a series of re-elections.
4. Political parties that lose to NOTA to bear the cost of re-election.
5. The candidates who lose to NOTA should not be allowed to contest elections for a defined period of time (for example, 6 years)
6. Candidates receiving votes less than NOTA to be disqualified to contest any election in future, even in constituencies where NOTA might not have got maximum votes.

Conclusion

  • As the Supreme Court itself had stated that the introduction of NOTA does not involve a ‘right to reject’, it is simply a ‘right to register a negative opinion’, this is the greatest misgiving of NOTA.
  • The objective with which NOTA was introduced was to enable the electorate, who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates, to exercise their right without violation of the secrecy of their decision.
  • The entire purpose of NOTA is taken away by the fact that irrespective of the number of citizens who have pressed NOTA in the EVMs the candidate with even a marginal majority will win the elections.
  • NOTA would only ensure the secrecy of the voter who did not want to vote for any of the voters in his constituency while also ensuring that nobody casts a bogus vote in his place.
  • NOTA will help to make our country free from corruption but at the same time it will hamper our economy as a lot of money is spent on conducting the elections, if there are no good people contesting the elections, all the spent money will go in vain.
  • India follows the first past the post system in elections wherein whichever candidates gets one vote more than the second candidate wins in the election in a particular location. Therefore, political experts are of the view that NOTA is essentially a wastage of a vote since it makes no impact in the electoral outcome in any election, be it assembly elections or the Lok Sabha elections.
  • If the ‘None of the above’ option is implemented with its true intent, the whole political scenario of the country will drastically change.

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