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None of the above (NOTA)

History of NOTA - how it came into being, whose idea was it?

The idea of a“None of the above’ ballot option originated in 1976 when the Isla Vista Municipal Advisory Council passed a resolution to put forward this choice in the official electoral ballot, in County of Santa Barbara, California, in the USA. Walter Wilson & Matthew Landy Steen, then council ministers, presented a legal resolution to make some changes in the ballot procedure for the elections. The ‘None of the above’ (NOTA) option was introduced for the first time, in 1978, in a ballot by the State of Nevada. In California, a total of $ 987,000 was spent in promoting this ballot option but it was defeated by a margin of 64% to 36% in the March 2000 general election. This new ballot option would have been declared as a new voting system for all elective offices of US State & Federal governments, if voters would have passed it.

Who introduced NOTA?

In India, in 2009, the Election Commission of India asked the Supreme Court that to offer the voter a ‘None of the above’ option at the ballot as it would give voters the freedom of not selecting any undeserving candidate. The Government was not in favour of such an idea.

“The People’s Union for Civil Liberties’” which is an NGO, filed a public interest litigation statement to favour NOTA. Finally on 27th September 2013, the right to register a ‘None of the above’ vote in elections was applied by the Supreme Court of India, which then ordered the Election Commission that all voting machines should be provided with a NOTA button so as to give voters the option to choose ‘none of the above’.

Need for introducing NOTA

In our country, it often happens that a voter does not support any of the candidates in the election, but they have no choice but to select a candidate. According to the judges of the Supreme Court of India, the introduction of ‘None of the above’ i.e. NOTA option to voters would lead to systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. In a voting system, the voter should be allowed to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates. The very purpose of introducing this option is to empower the voter to reject all candidates if they do not like any and all the candidates listed in the EVM (electronic voting machine). The political parties would be left with option other than to nominate clean candidates on their behalf in the elections. Candidates with criminal or immoral backgrounds would have no option but to abstain from contesting elections.

What is rule 49-O? And how is it different from NOTA?

According to Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 rule 49-O says that “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.” The difference between 49-O and NOTA is that 49-O does not provide secrecy. The Section 49 (O) stood annulled after the SC cleared the NOTA provision. It gave the poll officials a chance to find out the reason behind the rejection of a candidate through the voter's remarks in Form 17A. Through NOTA, the officials cannot find out the reason for the rejection. Moreover, it protects the identity of a voter, thus keeping the concept of secret balloting intact.

Positive Points of NOTA

Although there are lots of negative points about ‘None of the above’ option in elections to voters, the positive points also cannot be ignored. The very intention of the Supreme Court of India was to force the political parties to project candidates with clean background as their candidates. The candidates who win the election become part of the legislature, governing the country. It was, therefore, felt mandatory that candidates with criminal or immoral or unclean backgrounds are deterred from contesting the elections. If this option of ‘None of the above’ is implemented with its true intent, the whole political scenario of the country will drastically change from the present scenario.

Negative Points of NOTA

Some of the countries who initially introduced such option to the voters, later discontinued or abolished the system. In countries where voting machines contain a NOTA button, there are chances of it receiving a majority of the vote and hence “winning” the election. In such a case, Election Commission may opt any of these options a) keep the office vacant, b) fill office by appointment, c) hold another election. The State of Nevada, in such a situation, has a policy of no effect whatsoever and the next highest total wins.

New Trends in Elections in 2014

EVM: The Electronic Voting Machines were introduced by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in the year 1999. This electronic method of voting has helped in reducing the time taken for voting as well in declaring the results.

VVPAT: The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail will be introduced on experimental basis this year. As soon as the vote is cast, a paper slip showing which symbol and candidate has been voted for will be automatically dropped in a sealed box attached to the EVM. This slip will be further used by the EC.

Last Updated on 22 October 2018