It will make dissatisfied voters come to booths and exercise their right to say ‘no’: Bench

In the existing electoral system, a dissatisfied voter does not turn up for voting and this provides an opportunity for unscrupulous elements to impersonate him/her. But if the option of ‘none of the above’ candidates is provided, even reluctant voters could turn up at the booth and press the NOTA button in the electronic voting machine, the Supreme Court said on Friday. Allowing a petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, said the provision for negative voting send clear signals to political parties and their candidates as to what the electorate thought about them.

The Bench pointed out that France, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Ukraine, Chile, Bangladesh, the United States, Finland, Sweden, Columbia and Spain had provided for neutral/protest/negative voting.

“Eventually, voters’ participation explains the strength of democracy. Lesser voter participation is rejection of commitment to democracy slowly but definitely, whereas larger participation is better for democracy. But there is no yardstick to determine what the correct and right voter participation is. If introducing the NOTA button can increase participation of democracy then, in our cogent view, nothing should stop the same.” Non-participation in the elections would cause frustration and disinterest, “which is not a healthy sign of a growing democracy like India.”

The fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution read with the statutory right under Section 79(d) of the Representation of the People Act would be violated unreasonably if the right not to vote effectively was denied and secrecy was breached. The right to vote as well as the right not to vote was statutorily recognised under Section 79(d) of the RP Act and Rules 41(2) and (3) and 49-O of the Election Conduct Rules respectively. “Whether a voter decides to cast his vote or not, in both cases, secrecy has to be maintained. It cannot be said that if a voter decides to cast his vote, secrecy will be maintained under Section 128 of the RP Act, read with Rules 39 and 49M, and in case a voter decides not to cast his vote, secrecy will not be maintained. Therefore, a part of Rule 49-O read with Form 17-A, which treats a voter who decides not to cast his vote differently and allows secrecy to be violated is arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of Article 19 and is also ultra vires Sections 79(d) and 128 of the RP Act.”

The court said the NOTA button sought for by the petitioners was similar to the ‘ABSTAIN’ button provided for in the voting machines in Parliament, the other two being ‘AYES’ and NOES. For, by pressing the NOTA button, the voter would in effect say he was abstaining from voting since he did not find any of the candidates worthy of his vote.

The Bench, therefore, directed the Election Commission to provide the necessary provision in ballot papers/EVMs and the NOTA button. “Inasmuch as the Commission itself is in favour of the provision for NOTA in EVMs, we direct the EC to implement the same either in a phased manner or at a time with the assistance of the Government of India. We also direct the Government of India to provide necessary help for implementation of the above direction. Besides, we direct the EC to undertake awareness programmes to educate the masses,” the Bench said.

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