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Secrecy of ballot is key to free and fair elections: SC

A voter can also voluntarily waive the privilege of non-disclosure, a three-judge Bench of the court said

Secrecy of ballot is the cornerstone of free and fair elections. The choice of a voter should be free and the secret ballot system in a democracy ensures it, the Supreme Court has held in a judgment.

“It is the policy of law to protect the right of voters to secrecy of the ballot... Even a remote or distinct possibility that a voter can be forced to disclose for whom she has voted would act as a positive constraint and a check on the freedom to exercise of franchise,” a three-judge Bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Sanjeev Khanna and Krishna Murari observed.

The principle of secrecy of ballots is an important postulate of constitutional democracy, the court said.

Voters’ privilege

Justice Khanna, who wrote the judgment, referred to Section 94 of the Representation of the People Act, which upholds the privilege of the voter to maintain confidentiality about her choice of vote.

However, a voter can also voluntarily waive the privilege of non-disclosure. “The privilege ends when the voter decides to waive the privilege and instead volunteers to disclose as to whom she had voted. No one can prevent a voter from doing. Nor can a complaint be entertained from any, including the person who wants to keep the voter’s mouth sealed as to why she disclosed for whom she voted,” Justice Khanna wrote.

Appeal against HC order

The judgment came on an appeal against the Allahabad High Court decision setting aside the voting of a no-confidence motion in the zila panchayat of the Panchayat Adhyaksha in Uttar Pradesh in 2018. The High Court found that some of the panchayat members had violated the rule of secrecy of ballot. It relied on CCTV footage to conclude that they had either displayed the ballot papers or by their conduct revealed the manner in which they had voted.

The Supreme Court referred to Section 28(8) of the Uttar Pradesh Kshettra Panchayat and Zila Panchayat Adhiniyam, 1961. This provision states that a motion of no confidence shall be put to vote in the prescribed manner by secret ballot.

The court ordered a re-vote of the motion within the next two months. It ordered the Allahabad District Judge or his nominee to act as the presiding officer.

Justice Khanna ordered that the vote should be conducted by the secret ballot system.

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