NOTA or ‘None of the above’ is a ballot option that a voter can opt for if he or she is dissatisfied with the contesting candidates. The role of NOTA in India’s context can hold considerable importance if implemented constructively.
None of the above, or NOTA for short, is a ballot option that allows the voter to not vote for any candidate, indicating disapproval of the contesting candidates. In India, NOTA was first introduced in 2013 to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in a State Assembly Election. India was the 14th country to introduce the ballot option of NOTA.
Greece and Spain use the term ‘white vote’ to refer to NOTA, and in Argentina, it is called a blank vote. There are some countries that do not offer the voters the option of NOTA, but they choose to develop creative methods. For instance, Serbia did not have the option of NOTA, but a NOTA party was formed which won a seat with 22,000 votes.
The option was introduced to encourage a high voter turnout. NOTA carries no arithmetic value and is considered a neutral or invalid vote which does not change the outcome of the election process. Former Chief Election Commissioner, OP Rawat, clearly stated that our country lacked the legal framework to implement NOTA and it would take about 100 years for NOTA to result in something meaningful. Aayushi Sharma, a student of Jesus and Mary College said, “NOTA may seem like a good option to a few, but our country does not provide any concrete solution if NOTA gets the highest share of votes.”
According to the existing rules, if in a constituency, NOTA gets the highest number of votes, the candidate with the next highest share becomes the winner. However, in November 2018, Maharashtra State Election Commissioner had passed an order claiming re-election if NOTA got the highest share of votes.
This also brings into question how the electoral system followed in India can render NOTA votes as redundant or ineffective as a method of expressing disapproval at all the contesting candidates. India follows the First-past-the-post voting system, which, in the simplest of terms dictates that the candidate who gets the highest number of votes in a constituency wins the election. This applies if the candidate has won by a landslide in their constituency or even if they win by a hairbreadth, they will still get the seat.
Before getting into how this system theoretically renders NOTA ineffective, a look needs to be taken at how it affects the minorities of our country in getting adequate representation in Parliament. As this system does not give any importance to the total votes of the party but on how individual candidates have performed in their respective constituencies. For example, in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got 37.36% of the vote but their seat share was much more at 303 while Indian National Congress (INC) with around 19% of the votes only had 52 seats. Similarly, Trinamool Congress with 4.07% of the votes had 22 seats while Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) had more seats (24) with just 2.26% of the total votes.
This system ensures that minorities in India which are widely spread throughout the country do not get adequate representation within the electoral system. It also renders NOTA vote as ineffective in all cases, as these votes are reduced to a mere symbolic representation of disapproval of all candidates and does not carry any real change. The idea suggested by Maharashtra State Election Commissioner while a step in the right direction will only be put in play in a very rare scenario where NOTA gets the highest share of votes. The Indian electoral system needs major overhauls to bring NOTA votes into play. To provide adequate minority representation and to preserve India as the world’s largest democracy.
Feature Image Credits: DNA India
Prabhanu Kumar Das