“NOTA” or ‘None of the Above’ has been provided as an option to the voters of India in most elections. Through the usage of NOTA, a citizen can choose not to vote for any candidates who are contesting the elections.
NOTA is an option to express dissatisfaction and rejection. Naturally, a voter who dislikes all the candidates who have contested the election in his / her constituency gets a kind of gratification by opting NOTA. It is believed that negative voting, would gradually make the political parties to field ‘clean’ candidates, out of fear of losing votes and bring a systematic change in polls.
NOTA in India does not guarantee dismissal of the winning candidate. Therefore, it’s only a method to give a negative feedback. NOTA does not hold any electoral value even if the maximum votes are for NOTA, the candidate with maximum vote share will still be the winner.
NOTA symbol and meaning
The ‘None Of The Above’ (Nota) option on electronic voting machines (EVMs) finally got its own symbol — a small ballot paper with a black cross on it.
The symbol will appear against the Nota option in the last panel on all EVMs and ballot papers. The symbol is simple and unambiguous. A cross on the list of candidates depicts the voter’s decision not to vote for any candidate. The cross is a universal sign denoting disapproval. This makes the Nota symbol easy to recognize and remember.
The symbol has been designed by Prof Tarun Deep Girdher of NID, Ahmedabad, and has been approved by the Election Commission of India. It took Prof Girdher more than five months to design it. His team worked in close collaboration with Gujarat chief electoral officer Anita Karwal.
Election Commission of India (ECI) and NOTA
- ECI has stated that “…even if, in any extreme case, the number of votes against NOTA is more than the number of votes secured by the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes among the contesting candidates shall be declared to be elected…”
- In a clarification released in 2013, ECI has stated that votes polled for NOTA cannot be considered for determining the forfeiture of security deposit.
- In 2014, ECI introduced NOTA in Rajya Sabha elections.
- In 2015, Election Commission of India announced the symbol for ‘None of the Above’ option, with the design being done by National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. Earlier, there were demands that Election Commission allot the symbol of a donkey for NOTA.
Rules refined for NOTA
There has been discussions to improve on NOTA, and to empower the voter through NOTA. Some of those suggested improvements include:
- If NOTA receives the highest number of votes, re-elections should be held in that constituency
- If the votes received by NOTA is higher than a certain percent, re-election to be held
- When conducting re-elections, the NOTA button may be disabled to avoid a series of re-elections
- Political parties that lose to NOTA to bear the cost of re-election
The candidates who lose to NOTA should not be allowed to contest elections for a defined period of time (for example, 6 years)
- Candidates receiving votes less than NOTA to be disqualified to contest any election in future, even in constituencies where NOTA might not have got maximum votes
- To conduct re-election, if the votes polled for NOTA is higher than the winning margin of votes.
Will NOTA make a difference
There is a sense of frustration in voters across the country. Voters of five states where assembly elections were held in November last year used the ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option for the first time. However, the NOTA option leaves voters with little reprieve since the candidate polling the highest number of votes is declared elected, anyway. When NOTA is listed on a ballot, there is the possibility that more people vote NOTA and thereby registering their protest against the very system itself. So far the Election Commission of India (ECI) has made NOTA virtually a lame duck exercise. In countries where the NOTA option is allowed, if more people opt for it then a variety of formal procedures may be invoked, including having the office remain vacant, having the office filled by appointment, re-opening nominations or holding another election (in a body operating under parliamentary procedure). Will the ECI take that far-reaching decision and order a re-election if say 60% of voters press the NOTA button? Granted that holding elections in a country as large as India is a gargantuan exercise and huge funds are required, apart from the movement of personnel. It is no simple matter to have a re-poll. But further electoral reforms are needed to bring a semblance of orderliness in the electoral process and to address the grievances of voters.
It may be recalled that the ECI allowed the NOTA option on the basis of a September 27, 2013 judgment of the Supreme Court. This implies that the ECI has not taken this progressive step volitionally. Indeed, the ECI continues to fail in its efforts to curb the use of money, even though muscle is noticeably reduced. In states like Nagaland for instance a village headman (Gaon Bura) can vote for the entire village for a candidate commonly agreed to. Our electoral system works only in the breach and the ECI has to continually engage to evolve the best possible method that can give us the best candidates to lead the country. Perhaps if more voters use NOTA it would push the ECI to come up with other alternatives to meet voters’ aspirations.
Supreme Court Judgment on NOTA
A writ petition was filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The Supreme Court of India judgment said, “We direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called “None of the Above” (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy.” The Supreme Court also observed that it is essential that people of high moral and ethical values are chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country, and NOTA button can compel political parties to nominate a sound candidate.
FactsPedia: NOTA not applied
- NOTA was not included in the 2015 Kerala panchayat elections.
- Section 79 (d) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, recognises “electoral right” to also include the right to “refrain from voting at an election.
- Recognition of “electoral right” as also the right to “refrain from voting at an election” is not made in the acts pertaining to elections to panchayats in Kerala.
- Including NOTA in panchayat elections to these states and making improvements to NOTA may require changes or amendments to these acts and rules.
Resources: Election Commission of India (ECI), Quora, Wikipedia, The Shillong Times