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Voters get right to reject all candidates

The Supreme Court on Friday passed an order to this effect, seen as a way to "clean up" the electoral system

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Indians will now have another fundamental right: The right to reject all candidates in an election by simply pressing a button in the electronic voting machine (EVM) that says None of the Above (NOTA).

The Supreme Court on Friday passed an order to this effect, seen as a way to “clean up” the electoral system.

However, constitutional experts and political parties were divided on how useful a vote electing no one would be in a democracy like India.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, hailed the order, Congress spokesmen said they were still studying it. Some legal brains in the Congress said they found little merit in the order, as the right to vote was not a fundamental right, only a statutory right and, therefore, for the right to reject to become a fundamental right was inconsistent.

It is expected that the order would first be implemented in the upcoming Assembly elections. Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram are scheduled to go to the polls later in the year. The judgment came in response to a public interest suit filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

In its order, the court directed the election commission to include negative voting by allowing voters to select none as an option in EVM and ballot papers.

Sources in Bangalore-based Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which makes the EVMs, said no new technology was needed to add the new button. “Each of the EVMs manufactured by BEL has 16 buttons. Now with the SC saying that there should be a None-of-the-Above button, all the EC has to do is list a button against that option. However, what symbol (for unlettered voters) the EC chooses for the button is something it has to decide,” a BEL official said.

At present, under rule 49-O of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, a voter can by filling a form to the presiding officer place on record his unwillingness to vote for any of the candidates.

Opposition leaders said if more than 50 per cent voters press the NOTA button, the election should be set aside. The SC order is not clear on this. They also argued that the Right to Recall should be the next right the Indian voter should get.

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First Published: Sat, September 28 2013. 00:57 IST