None Of The Above (NOTA) is a ballot option designed to allow the voter to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in a voting system.
NOTA provides the right to a citizen to not vote for any candidate contesting the elections. The Supreme Court, in 2013, upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting the elections.
It was introduced in India following the 2013Supreme Court directive in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India judgment.
The NOTA option was first used in the 2013 assembly elections held in four states — Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and the Union Territory, Delhi. More than 15 lakh people exercised the option in the state polls.
However, NOTA in India does not provide for a ‘right to reject’.
The candidate with the maximum votes wins the election irrespective of the number of NOTA votes polled.
To enable electors who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates to exercise their right to reject without violation of the secrecy of their decision.
The voter must be eligible to register a vote of rejection if they feel that the contesting candidates do not deserve to be voted for.
The Right to vote granted to all citizens must allow the vote of disapproval.
Which other countries allow NOTA?
Colombia, Ukraine, Brazil, Bangladesh, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Chile, France, Belgium and Greece allow their voters to cast NOTA votes. The US also allows it in a few cases. The state of Texas in the US permits the provision since 1975. The option, however, has faced opposition there
Similar Provision Before NOTA
Before NOTA came into existence, there was Section 49 (O).
Under Section 49 (O) of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, a voter could enter his electoral serial number in Form 17A and cast a negative vote.
The presiding officer would then put a remark in the form and get it signed by the voter. This was done to prevent fraud or misuse of votes.
This provision was deemed unconstitutional by the SC as it did not protect the identity of the voter.
Under it, the poll officials got a chance to find out the reason behind the rejection of a candidate through the voter’s remarks in Form 17A.
Under NOTA, the officials cannot find out the reason and the identity of the voter is also protected.
On the surface it seems 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 winner.
Issue of no Electoral Value
“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.
Other arguments in favour of NOTA are strengthens democracy by increasing voter’s choice, ensuring confidentiality and checking against Bogus votes.
The bench also pointed out that the system of negative voting existed in several other countries. Even in Parliament, the MPs have the option to abstain during a vote.
Scrapping of NOTA in Rajya Sabha
The Supreme Court, in 2018, held that the NOTA option is meant only for universal adult suffrage and direct elections and not polls held by the system of proportional representation.
The court held that making NOTA applicable in Rajya Sabha elections is contrary to Article 80(4) of the constitution and the Supreme Court’s judgment in PUCL v Union of India (2013).
NOTA in indirect elections, such as in the Rajya Sabha, would lead to horse-trading, corruption and use of extra constitutional methods to defeat a party candidate. It is going to negatively impact the party discipline.