Voters can reject nominees: SC

Voters can reject nominees: SC

Poll panel told to include 'none of the above' option in EVMs

Voters can reject nominees: SC

The Supreme Court on Friday gave voters an option to reject all contesting candidates in complete secrecy by instructing the Election Commission (EC) to provide for a “none of the above” option in Electronic Voting Machines and ballot papers.

The move would protect identity of people who prefer not to vote for any candidate. Until now, such voters were required to fill in a form at polling stations and put their signatures or thumb impressions, thus revealing their identity.

In a landmark verdict, a three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice P Sathasivam directed that identity of the people casting a negative vote should be protected. It also stated that political parties will now be compelled to field “sound candidates.” 

“In a vibrant democracy, it would also ensure wider participation of the people and give the political parties a clear signal about the electorate’s mind,” the court said. “Denying this right would defeat freedom of expression and right to liberty.” 

The court said: “When the political parties realise that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval, gradually there will be a systemic change and they will be forced to field candidates who are known for their integrity.”

The bench, also comprising justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Ranjan Gogoi, asked the EC to implement the provision at once or in a phased manner or with assistance from the Centre. 

In its 51-page verdict, the court also relied upon the Law Commission’s 170th report, which had favoured negative voting. It also noted that in Parliament, “MPs could cast their votes in ayes, noes and abstain.”

The court rejected the Centre’s argument that the Representation of the People Act did not recognise a negative vote. It further added that negative voting would have no legal consequence as the candidate with the highest number of votes would still be declared elected under the existing election laws.

“The mechanism of negative voting, thus, serves a very fundamental and essential part of a vibrant democracy,” the court said.

Senior counsels Rajinder Sachhar and Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the petitioner – an NGO, PUCL – challenged constitutional validity of Rules 41(2) and (3) and 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. They contended that the rules violated secrecy of voting, which was fundamental to free and fair elections. 

The judgment

* For democracy to survive, the best available men must be people’s representatives
* In a vibrant democracy, the voter must have the 
option to choose ‘none of the above’ or cast negative vote, which will compel political parties to 
field right candidates
* Negative voting fosters purity of electoral process and wide participation of people
* When people disapprove of candidates put up by political parties, there will be systemic change 
and the will of the people will prevail

I am sure it will have a long-lasting impact on our polity and will be a great step in the direction of further electoral reforms that can make our democracy even more vibrant and participative. 
Narendra Modi, BJP

Neither the judiciary nor the Election Commission participates in the elections. It is the political parties which participate. Without even talking to them deciding like this, it is not a good sign.
Sitaram Yechury, CPM

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