Putting an end to a raging controversy, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay the notification for using the None Of The Above option in Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat.
The Congress’ petition in the apex court had sought to quash and declare the circulars issued by Election Commission in January 2014 and later in November 2015 as "void". The election watchdog had made the NOTA option available in the Rajya Sabha elections via these circulars.
The court issued a notice to the Election Commission, seeking its response within two weeks, and said that it will be treated as a constitutional question of whether NOTA applies to the election to the Council of States.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had also objected to the use of NOTA, saying that it did not go with the spirit of indirect elections as it allows one to reject all candidates.
What is NOTA?
NOTA, or ‘None Of The Above’, option appears at the bottom of EVM or ballot paper, below the names of all the contestants. This option allows a voter to reject all the candidates in any election.
It was included in the EVMs and ballot papers by virtue of a Supreme Court judgment in September 2013 which directed the Election Commission to “make necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs for “None of the Above (NOTA)” option so that the electors who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates can exercise their right not to vote for any candidate without violation of the secrecy of their decision.”
The Supreme Court had justified the inclusion of NOTA by saying that it would force political parties to project clean candidates in an election. The court said that since all citizens have the "right to vote", one must also have the right to reject all candidates as part of their fundamental right to speech and expression in the Constitution.
Prior to this judgment, there was a similar provision in which one could refuse all the candidates in the fray and exercise his or her right to vote. To do that, a voter had to go to the Presiding Officer at the polling booth and fill form 17A. This, however, did not allow for anonymity.
Symbol of NOTA
(Image: Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA)
The symbol consists a cross over the list of candidates depicting the decision of the voter not to select any of the candidates. It was designed by the professors of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
What if NOTA gets maximum votes?
As per Election Commission's note, “even if the number of electors opting for NOTA option is more than the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes has to be declared elected.”
So while the provision ensures that a voter has right to refuse, it does not mean that no candidate will be elected and the election for that seat will be cancelled.
Which other countries have such a provision?
According to Association of Democratic Reforms, apart from India, France, Belgium, Bangladesh, Brazil, Greece, Ukraine, Chile, Finland, Sweden, Spain and Columbia are countries where NOTA or similar voting practice is allowed. Few states like Nevada and Texas in the US also allow it. Bulgaria also joined the list in 2016.