Take note of NOTA

With no constructive power, there is a fraction of citizens who see NOTA as a waste of rights exercised.
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

CHENNAI: Since the implementation of NOTA, the power devoted to it has become a problem. It is more of a choice than having a strong outcome. In the upcoming elections, if you plan to cast NOTA, there is something you should remember. Even if a majority of votes are NOTA, the candidate with the next highest number of votes will be declared the winner.

With no constructive power, there is a fraction of citizens who see NOTA as a waste of rights exercised. Over a decade later, while a few amendments have been passed, the option is yet to be explored to its full potential. People who have cast NOTA previously, and researchers talk about the reasons, results, and the future of NOTA.

Arappor Iyakkam’s convenor Jayaram Venkatesan says, “NOTA was envisioned in a way that if it wins, it means that the majority of the people do not have belief in the candidate, therefore the parties should be forced to change the candidate to someone better. It acts as a way of reforming electoral politics.”

With a similar understanding, Srinidhi Sriram, a PR executive, who voted NOTA in the 2019 general elections says, “Politicians promise many things and when they are elected, they happily forget the work guaranteed. In such a time when the voter is agitated with the system, NOTA vote is important.”

During the same election, Anishya Premi M, an assistant professor, also cast a NOTA vote. “At that time, I did not have enough knowledge about the political and administrative scenario of our country. Later I realised NOTA is not a great option to contribute to electing the right person. In my opinion, it’s not much different from not voting,” she says.

Journalist Kalyani opted for NOTA during the Maharashtra Assembly elections in 2019, after sifting through manifestos of all constituencies. “Our constituency needed better water management, and fertilisers as lands were going barren. There were no employment opportunities…None of the candidates appealed to me,” she says, adding that NOTA is an important part of a voting mechanism, as having choices is crucial.

Talking about options, Anishya points out that civicsclasses teach NOTA is a good option but when an individual casts a NOTA vote, nobody will even know why. NOTA is not much different from 49-O; in the latter, the decision of not wanting to vote is declared. But, in NOTA, that privilege is curbed.

“NOTA is an option which is opted by the privileged because the working class people know that one way or the other, the elected representatives do some kind of good, especially in Tamil Nadu political dynamics,” says Arunesh Babu, a research scholar who indulged in door-to-door campaigning for 2019 (general) and 2021 (assembly) elections.

He adds that NOTA is more like a " lazy option (of those who don't indulge in political discourse), driven by the privilege to express moral superiority or virtue signalling. In the case of Leftists, to assert their ideological purity, they opt for nota stating none of the parties are ideologically aligning with their politics. Otherwise, the general public, the economic upper middle class, plainly state that they do not have good schemes. But, they don't take into account how the same political party do good for the "other", the marginalized and minorities."

During his campaigning days, Arunesh says that he has not come across any working-class people, who consider NOTA as an option. He notes that there is a popular misconception that the working class is not aware of the political dynamics. They know more about it. “They mocked me when I told them that I would be opting NOTA for the general election.” But Jayaram argues that the awareness level is still low and more work has to be done. The EC has an important role in creating this awareness. “It is going to be an uphill task because electoral reforms take decades of work to come into practice,” he adds.

Local body elections have given power to NOTA in states like Maharastra and Haryana wherein the local bodies follow a practice of reelection when majority votes are NOTA. “It is more like a chicken-egg kind of a problem. When more people vote for NOTA maybe then the EC will work towards allotting power to it. This is what happened in Haryana and Maharashtra, where NOTA was noticed and then there were campaigns in the local body surface. Therefore, it is both ways,” shares Jayaram.

In Tamil Nadu, until 2022 the NOTA was not a part of the by-election EVMs. After various efforts by organisations like Arappor and politically aware individuals, a GO was passed in July 2022 that voting machines should have NOTA even in local body elections. Jayaram believes that only after eight years NOTA, as an option has come into existence in all forms of elections, at least in the state. “Now, when we as a society move from representative democracy to direct democracy NOTA will have its due power,” he concludes.

What is NOTA?

In a landmark judgement passed by the Supreme Court in 2013, None Of The Above (NOTA) was introduced. The option gives voters the right to reject all candidates listed on an EVM, during polls. The Court directed the Election Commission (EC) to ensure an option where voters could choose not to vote for any candidate on the ballot. In a press release dated September 18, 2015, the EC stated: ‘NOTA is introduced as an option on ballot papers displayed on EVMS with effect from September 27, 2013.

This symbol will appear in the last panel on all EVMS at all elections to be held from now onwards.’ Black in colour, an ‘X’ mark on a ballot paper is NOTA’s symbol. The release explains that the main objective of NOTA is to enable electors who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates to exercise their right to vote for any candidate without violating the secrecy of their decision. There is no mention of the powers of NOTA and the result when the majority choose NOTA.

Inputs by Archita Raghu

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