Even as poll authorities are preparing to make available the option for ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) for the first time in the State for about 2.35 lakh electors of the Yercaud assembly constituency which is facing by-election next month, the State Elections Department is learnt to have sought clarification from the Election Commission whether Rule 49-O can still be invoked.

The provision for the NOTA option has been imperative thanks to the Supreme Court’s judgment in September last given in the context of constitutional validity of the Rule 49-0.

According to the direction of the Court, the option has to be provided on electronic voting machines and ballot papers to enable those not wanting to vote for any candidate to exercise their option in secrecy. The court also held that the provisions of Rule 49-O under which one not wishing to vote for any candidate had to inform the Presiding Officer about one’s decision, are ultra vires Article 19 of the Constitution [protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech] and Section 128 [maintenance of secrecy of voting] of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The rationale behind this position is that under the existing system of implementation of the provisions of Rule 49-0, the principle of secrecy is violated.

Under the Rule, if one, after putting one’s signature or thumb impression on the Register of Voters (Form 17A), decides not to cast vote, such an elector should not be compelled to vote.

A remark to the effect that the elector has decided not to vote – “Refused to Vote” – should be entered in the Register. Apart from the official concerned, the elector has to append his or her signature/thumb impression.

An official of the department says that the Rule 49-O has wider scope as electors may have more than one reason for deciding not to vote, unlike in respect of the provision for NOTA that points to the people’s rejection of the given set of candidates in a constituency.

For instance, an elector may decide not to vote as an impulsive reaction because he or she feels upset over the way an official at the polling station treats him or her.

This and many more such reasons may even have nothing to do with the assessment of electors about candidates in their constituency.

This is why the Rule 49-0 may be considered relevant, the official explains.

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