ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Voting from the Margins

Patterns of NOTA Voting in India

Since October 2013, Indian voters have the option of voting “None of the Above” if they choose to not vote for any of the candidates contesting in an election. It has been nearly five years since nota’s implementation, but how the option is used is not yet understood well. An examination of the initial trends in such voting shows that there is considerable regional variation. There is no indication that nota is higher in areas with a higher urban or literate population. Moreover, findings suggest that nota voting is not associated with rising turnout and increasing criminality in elections.

Over the past seven decades, Indian democracy has been admired for its well-functioning election system even as the performance of its elected institutions such as the executive and Parliament have seen a perceptible decline on many counts.1 Commentators on Indian politics have attributed much of this success to the Election Commission and continuous improvements in procedures, in which the apex poll-conducting body has been helped by an activist judiciary and civil society (McMillan 2010; Sridharan and Vaishnav 2017). A result of these partnerships has been some very tangible reforms, including the introduction of electronic voting machines and mandatory disclosure of candidate backgrounds, primarily to tackle the use of “muscle and money” in elections. At the same time, wider measures were also discussed to strengthen and tidy up existing reforms. This article2 engages with one such measure: the option of voting for “None of the Above” or NOTA.

The Supreme Court in 2013 directed the Election Commission to include a NOTA option that voters could choose if they did not wish to vote for any of the candidates on the ballot. The directive came in response to a petition by civil society bodies, who argued that moving from paper ballots to voting machines solved the problems of rigging,3 but it created a new one: the option of not voting for anybody could not be captured secretly. The pressing of the button to cast the vote is accompanied by a loud beep, and if no button is pressed, no sound made will reveal to everybody present that the voter has not voted for any candidate. Moreover, voters could access information on the criminal antecedents of politicians seeking office, but they could not communicate their displeasure, if any, directly through their ballot. The NOTA option was introduced in the context of addressing such incremental concerns about the electoral process.

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Updated On : 21st Aug, 2018
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