Petition seeks provision for negative voting

J. Venkatesan

New Delhi: The Supreme Court is hearing a petition seeking a direction to the Centre and the Election Commission to have a provision for “negative” voting in the Representation of the People Act, giving the voter the right to register his “rejection” of the candidates.

A Bench of Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice G. S. Singhvi on Wednesday heard arguments from senior counsel Rajinder Sachar for the petitioner, People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), for such a direction and Additional Solicitor-General Amarendra Saran, appearing for the Centre, strongly opposing it. Counsel for the Election Commission will make her submission on Thursday.

Mr. Sachar pointed out that under Rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, a voter who wanted to exercise the right not to vote had to inform the returning officer, who would register his name and address in an election book, thus violating the code of secret ballot.

He said the Commission should make a specific provision in the EVM to enable the voter to choose ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option.

The Rule says: “Elector deciding not to vote. — If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form 17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.”

Mr. Sachar argued that the rule is ultra vires the Constitution and violated Article 19 1 (a) on freedom of speech and expression. He said Article 324 gave ample power to the Election Commission to fill the lacuna.

Mr. Saran argued that the expression ‘voting’ would not include abstaining from voting or non-voting. There was no need to maintain secrecy in the case of abstaining from voting or non-voting under Section 128 of the RP Act and Rule 49 O was intra vires the Constitution.

In its response, the Centre said “the suggestion of a negative or ‘NOTA’ vote does make a lot of sense intellectually and as a matter of principle. It may, however, not at all be a practicable proposition as it is negative in character.”

Arguments will continue on Thursday.

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