“The EC welcomes the Supreme Court order, which has upheld its long-pending proposal in this regard. It will help maintain the secrecy of ballot for those who want to record a negative/neutral vote on the EVM,” a senior EC functionary told TNN.
“In accordance with the order of the Supreme Court, ‘NOTA’ shall be printed in a separate panel on the ballot paper below the name of the last contesting candidate.
This ballot paper shall be affixed on the ballot unit of the EVM. If the voter presses the button next to NOTA, his desire not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray will get recorded in the EVM in secrecy,” the EC said in a press release on Friday.
“Commission shall also make appropriate changes in Part-2 of Form 17C used during counting and the result sheet in Form 20 to separately compile the number of persons who used the option not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray,” the EC said, adding that it would issue detailed instructions to ensure compliance with the order of the court as expeditiously as possible.
As former CEC N Gopalaswami explained to TNN, “Even if 90 voters in an electorate of 100 persons press the NOTA button, the poll will be decided in favour of the candidate who gets the maximum of the remaining 10 votes”.
The proposal for negative/neutral voting was first made by the commission in December 2001, during the tenure of JM Lyngdoh, and then reiterated and pushed by the then Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy in July 2004.
As per the EC’s proposal, though the facility of registering a negative/neutral vote was already provided under Section 49-O of the conduct of election Rules, secrecy was maintainable only in a ballot system.
The system in the EVMs, which has now become the mainstay of elections, however was different and tended to compromise the secrecy of vote in as much as the polling officials and polling agents got to know about the decision of the voter not to cast this vote.
“The government had probably sensed the potential of the proposal being upgraded to a ‘right to reject’ all candidates in the future, which would invalidate any election where the negative voting option has been exercised in over 50% cases,” a former bureaucrat pointed out.
The EC, on its part, backed the People’s Union for Civil Liberties prayer to the apex court. This was in line with the view taken by its proposal submitted in 2004, recommending that the law be amended to specifically provide for negative/neutral voting.
“For this purpose, Rules 22 and 49B of the conduct of election rules, 1961, may be suitably amended, adding a proviso that in the ballot paper and the particulars on the ballot unit, in the column relating to names of candidates, after the entry relating to the last candidate, there shall be a column ‘none of the above’ to enable a voter to reject all the candidates,” the EC proposed.
However, Gopalaswami said the “right not to vote” was different from “right to reject” as the neutral votes cast would be set aside while deciding the result of an election. “At most, neutral voting is a step closer to ‘right to reject’, which may necessitate a re-election if a majority of candidates choose to reject all the candidates,” he noted.