Lok Sabha Elections 2019: What you need to know about NOTA and its implications
Expanded as ‘None of the Above’, NOTA is a button option one can find in the EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) used for the state and parliamentary elections conducted after 2013 in India.
Introduced for the first time in 2013, NOTA has so far figured in 37 assembly elections and one Lok Sabha election till date. The Association of Democratic Reforms, an NGO connected to electoral research has found out that NOTA secured 1.33 crore votes in the elections held between 2013 and 2017.
So what is NOTA and how does it impact the results of election?
In September 2017, the Supreme Court of India emphasized on the importance of introducing NOTA option in the EVMs in a move to uphold the right of the electors to reject all the candidates contesting in a given election. The Supreme Court said this measure will play a crucial role in helping us cleanse the political system. The statistical information got from NOTA will also help in making a number of conclusions regarding the contesting candidates and the general perceptions and opinions of the voters.
As part of the electoral reforms, the Apex Court ordered the Election Commission of India to introduce an option of ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) on the EVMs and also the ballot papers.
Usually we find the NOTA option at the end of the list of candidates contesting in a constituency. As per the earlier system, the electors were free to exercise the negative ballot option. However, to do it, they will have to contact the presiding officer in the polling booth. They had to cast their vote in a separate ballot paper and enter their name in a register kept for this purpose. Supreme Court said this system was unconstitutional as it failed to protect the voter’s identity. The introduction of NOTA option in the voting machines does not require one should contact the presiding officer and it also helps maintain the anonymity of the voter casting it.
Does NOTA make any difference in the outcome of elections?
A senior officer in the Election Commission said NOTA will hardly have any impact on the results of an election. In the first place, NOTA was introduced with an idea that more choices will give way to a higher turnout of voting in the elections. NOTA will give an option to the voters to express their disapproval of all the candidates contesting in the election and provide a way to express their disenchantment in the contemporary political system of the country.
NOTA does not affect the outcome of the elections. Even if the count of NOTA is significantly higher than the number of votes any candidate has secured in a given constituency, the candidate with the highest number of votes will still be declared as the winner. An analysis of the past elections after the introduction of NOTA tells us that the number of NOTA votes cast is significantly low. However, it is still found to be considerable in amount. Studies also show that NOTA is steadily increasing through the successive elections as the awareness about the importance of NOTA is spreading among the voters. A significant insight into the importance and role of NOTA might come through during the upcoming elections.
How is NOTA useful in a democratic electoral set up?
The Supreme Court maintained that the possibility to exercise the negative voting or NOTA option will encourage the voters to exercise their franchise even if they are not satisfied with any of the candidates contesting. The bench under the then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam said, "Negative voting will lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. If the right to vote is a statutory right, then the right to reject a candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under the Constitution."
NOTA has no arithmetic value in an election. It is not a negative vote, but only a neutral one as it does not count towards the final tally. While ordering the EC to introduce it, the Supreme Court said, “NOTA will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate.” When we reflect on the objectives behind the introduction of NOTA, we do understand that in future NOTA can play a significant role in interpreting how the political and electoral systems in a democracy are faring. It can also play a significant role in bringing about political and electoral reforms.