Will NOTA make a difference?

There is a sense of frustration in voters across the country. Voters of five states where assembly elections were held in November last year used the ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option for the first time. However, the NOTA option leaves voters with little reprieve since the candidate polling the highest number of votes is declared elected, anyway. When NOTA is listed on a ballot, there is the possibility that more people vote NOTA and thereby registering their protest against the very system itself. So far the Election Commission of India (ECI) has made NOTA virtually a lame duck exercise. In countries where the NOTA option is allowed, if more people opt for it then a variety of formal procedures may be invoked, including having the office remain vacant, having the office filled by appointment, re-opening nominations or holding another election (in a body operating under parliamentary procedure). Will the ECI take that far-reaching decision and order a re-election if say 60% of voters press the NOTA button? Granted that holding elections in a country as large as India is a gargantuan exercise and huge funds are required, apart from the movement of personnel. It is no simple matter to have a re-poll. But further electoral reforms are needed to bring a semblance of orderliness in the electoral process and to address the grievances of voters.

It may be recalled that the ECI allowed the NOTA option on the basis of a September 27, 2013 judgment of the Supreme Court. This implies that the ECI has not taken this progressive step volitionally. Indeed, the ECI continues to fail in its efforts to curb the use of money, even though muscle is noticeably reduced. In states like Nagaland for instance a village headman (Gaon Bura) can vote for the entire village for a candidate commonly agreed to. Our electoral system works only in the breach and the ECI has to continually engage to evolve the best possible method that can give us the best candidates to lead the country. Perhaps if more voters use NOTA it would push the ECI to come up with other alternatives to meet voters’ aspirations

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