Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 14, Dated Apr 11, 2009
A negative vote ensures no one
misuses your democratic right
Illustration: ANAND NAOREM
THE SINGLE most common suggestion from
voters and civil society around our country is
for an option to choose ‘None of the above’,
allowing a citizen not to vote for any of the candidates.
Sometimes this is also called “reject all
candidates”. The Election Commission has also endorsed
this option and has written formally to the government to
incorporate it in the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Some background on this is helpful.
Before we moved to the EVM system, we had ballot
papers. A voter could go into the booth in secrecy and put
a cross against all candidates, or in other ways invalidate her
vote. With the coming of the EVMs, this option is no longer
available since no button says ‘None of the above’. Rule
49(O) of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, can be
invoked to overcome this. A
voter can go to a polling
booth and tell the officer that
she does not want to vote. The
officer then looks up her
name on the voter rolls, puts a
line through it, and asks the voter to sign against her name.
This allows a voter to formally register the fact that she has
not voted. However, there is no secrecy since she has to
publicly tell the officer that she does not want to vote. Since
many officers are not aware of this provision, there is a lot of
resistance even if a voter wants to exercise this right. In fact,
many voters are also not aware of this provision.
There are some 49(O) rumours: if the maximum votes
are for ‘None of the above’, then either there will be a re-poll
or all candidates will be disqualified. This is incorrect.
|There will be pressure to change the
electoral system once the ‘None of
the above’ tallies become public
There is an advantage in exercising your right under
49(O) — it ensures that no one else casts your vote. But
under the current system, no statistics are available on how
many people have used 49(O). The EC’s suggestion to have a
button option on the EVM will allow the number of votes cast under ‘None of the above’ to be recorded. Once these
statistics start becoming public, there will be a lot more
pressure for far-reaching changes in the electoral system. A
public interest litigation (PIL) asking for ‘None of the above’
has been admitted in the Supreme Court. It remains to be
seen what the final judgment will be.
The long-term goal is clean elections that elect honest and
capable MPs and MLAs committed to public service and to better
democracy, finally delivering good governance. The option
of ‘None of the above’ is only one small step in that direction.
We need more structural changes: democratic candidate
selections instead of party bosses choosing in secret; political
parties being more transparent about funding sources and
democratic in internal functioning; and a public debate on the
quality of representation. The first-past-the-post system often
leads to situations where the
winner has about 20 percent of
the registered votes. The ruling
party usually has at the most 35
percent of the votes. This is
followed by horse-trading and
coalitions of convenience. A party with 35 percent votes can go
largely unrepresented, as happened in Karnataka where the
Congress actually got more votes than the BJP but far fewer
seats. These anomalies need to be removed, and there are
several alternate ways of arriving at better representation.
But all these changes need new legislation and Constitutional
amendments. Meanwhile, we face a major General
Election in the midst of various national crises, ranging from
terrorism, extremism, economic slowdown, poverty to agricultural
distress. In the next few days, the most practical thing
voters can do is to exercise their vote, know their candidate’s
background before voting, refuse to sell their votes for money
— and yes, use 49(O) if they want to express their dissatisfaction
with the quality of candidates in their constituency.
Sastry is a voters rights activist based in Bengaluru