Even as the Election Commission had announced that all polling officers would be instructed on the right of a voter to go to a polling booth and state on record that he or she does not wish to vote for any of the candidates listed — under Rule 49 (O) of the Representation of People Act (1961) — those who tried to exercise this option did not have it easy here on Sunday.
While some had to “educate” the polling officers before they could claim their right, there were also instances where a voter could simply not exercise the option.
Ashwath K., a resident of Indiranagar in C.V. Raman Nagar Constituency, said that the officers in the booth were “absolutely clueless” when he told them about 49 (O). “They did not answer me properly. Having gone all the way, I was finally forced to vote for someone,” he said.
On the other hand, four people from a family in Kamakshipalya in Govindarajnagar constituency, managed to exercise this right after persuading their officers to look into their manual.
Anil R., Sunil S. and Manjushree R. — cousins and first-time voters — were also asked by perplexed polling officers why they wanted to exercise this option. “After we told them that we did not think that any of the candidates were worthy of our votes, they obliged,” said Ms. Manjushree.
Rajesh Kumar, a voter in Vijayanagar constituency, had a problem of another kind. He was livid because the polling officer, in the presence of polling agents, loudly declared that he was exercising 49 (O). “This compromises my right to secret ballot,” he said. “This could result in the candidate being vindictive and intimidating me later,” he said.
Reacting to this, Chief Electoral Officer Arun Kumar Jha said: “It is a really unfortunate incident. We had specifically asked the presiding officers not to declare this in public. They should have just recorded the choice.”