Voters of urban local bodies (ULBs) in Tamil Nadu are not going to be provided with the option of NOTA (None of the Above) in the February 19 polls, and may get the option only in the next elections, if the State Election Commission (SEC) has its way.
Referring to the absence of the relevant provisions in the election rules as the primary reason, a senior official of the State Election Commission (SEC) said as the power of notification of rules lies with the State government, any amendment to the Tamil Nadu Town Panchayats, Third Grade Municipalities, Municipalities and Corporations (Elections) Rules, 2006, has to be done with the consent of the government. This matter is likely to be pursued once the ULBs poll process is over.
But, in many other States, including Maharashtra, the option is available. Odisha is the latest entrant to this list and the option will be provided to voters of 48 municipalities, 59 Notified Area Councils and 3 municipal corporations that are expected to go to polls soon.
In Tamil Nadu, NOTA was introduced in the 2013 by-election to the Yercaud Assembly constituency. In the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the proportion of those who supported NOTA varied from 1.4% to 1.8%. Approximately, 5.5 lakh persons cast their votes for NOTA. In the 2016 polls, NOTA drew 1.3% of voters– around 5.6 lakh persons –to its side. However, this went down to about 0.75% five years later, with around 3.46 lakh persons using the option.
While agreeing with the principle concerning NOTA, the SEC’s official, however, contends that the panel has been more preoccupied with the deadline fixed by the Supreme Court to hold the elections rather than embarking on any reform measure. Paucity of time is another factor, the official claims, adding that political parties have been already informed that neither the NOTA option nor the provision for Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips would be available this time.
There are genuine difficulties in implementing the concept of NOTA in small-sized ULBs. For example, if there are about 1,000 voters in a town panchayat ward with 10 candidates, the possibility of NOTA getting higher votes than any candidate cannot be ruled out. “We need to find ways to handle such a situation,” the official observes.
The situation regarding NOTA, including silence of the local bodies’ laws and rules is not something unique to Tamil Nadu. Pointing out this aspect, the Maharashtra SEC, in its order of November 6, 2018 [as available on its website], stated that the silence did not prohibit itself “from using its plenary powers to fill this vacuous area.” Declaring that NOTA would be regarded as a fictional electoral candidate, the panel stipulated that if, in any election, all the contestants received less votes individually than NOTA, no one would be declared winner and there would be a fresh election. In the second round, if NOTA secured more votes than the candidates, the contestant getting the highest votes would be declared elected. Likewise, in the first round itself, in the event of a tie between any candidate and NOTA, the former would be declared elected.
Activists are sore over what they call the denial of the right to voters of ULBs to use NOTA. T. Sadaogpan, president, Tamil Nadu Progressive Consumer Centre, recalls that relentless campaign by public-spirited organisations 20 years ago had contributed to the implementation of the option in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
Jayaram Venkatesan, Arappor Iyakkam convener, feels that the present provision in the ULBs’ elections - Section 71 of the State Rules (which is akin to section 49-O Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies), exposes the identity of those who use it, as they have to fill a form in the presence of party agents. But, there will be no problem if NOTA is available on electronic voting machines, he adds.