Exercising freedom of expression by NOTA voting

Author: Nikhil Kanekal

A recent judgment by the Supreme Court of India has elevated the right to vote was to a constitutional right by connecting it with the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to liberty under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21, respectively. Previously the right to vote was a statutory right granted to citizens under the Representation of People’s Act, 1950.

More significant from the court’s recent order is voters now have the option to push the none of the above (NOTA) button on the electronic voting machine (EVM). This will allow citizens who choose NOTA to continue to retain the secrecy of their ballot, something that was previously not possible. But even if NOTA secures the maximum number of votes in a constituency, it currently does not have any consequences for the formation of the government. India and her states continue to follow the first past the post principle and even a candidate who garners merely half as many votes (or fewer) than NOTA will go on to represent the people of that constituency.

Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, N. Gopalaswami believes this is only the beginning in a step towards giving citizens the actual right to reject candidates in an election. In an article published in The Hindu he concludes that “NOTA will not remain a small matter for long.”

If parties keep imposing tainted candidates on voters or, while selecting candidates, pay scant regard to their performance or integrity, the electorate can hit back with NOTA. A time will come with demands for fresh election with a fresh set of candidates if, in the first election, NOTA scores the highest votes. If that happens, even if the lawmakers are reluctant, the Supreme Court may not be unsympathetic given the contours of this judgment. With 12 crore first time voters who will have NOTA before them in the coming election to Parliament, the stage is set for the electorate to challenge political parties’ commitment to decriminalising the legislative bodies. A comprehensive electoral reform is the need of the hour but if the political class keeps dragging its feet, courts may be willing to clean the Augean stables. For their part, those who moved the Supreme Court in this matter and other civil society organisations would do well to educate voters of the power the court has placed in their hands and let the button beep louder and speak for them. NOTA will not remain a small matter for long.

Read the full article here.