ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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The Weight of a Vote

NOTA as a passive device absolves individuals of their responsibility to engage with the political reality.

It is needless to mention in an electoral democracy that the right to vote is of seminal importance. The votes that are exercised can decide not only the immediate winning prospects of the contesting candidate, but have decisive bearing on the very future of democracy. Thus, the normative weight of a vote in such a democracy is enormous. But, in recent times, the right to vote has become a matter of interesting debate. The consideration of the right to vote as a valuable asset and the anxiety to lose this asset seems to have prompted some candidates, even from the dominant political parties, to extract votes by issuing threats to voters. 

On the other side of the spectrum, a suggestion has emerged from some enlightened political leaders that finds value not in the exercise of votes in favour of a particular candidate, but in not exercising it in favour any of the candidates from among the set listed in the electronic voting machines (EVM). The NOTA (none of the above option) obviously assumes high morally evaluative standards for the candidates. NOTA essentially tends to rest the moral initiative with a voter, who can then enjoy moral authority over their constitutional duty. Further to it, NOTA is treated as moral protest and hence has its basis in negative responsibility, which would mean that my NOTA vote is the result of the poor quality of the candidates, for which I am not responsible. 

However, there is an uttar paksh to this purva paksh, there is a counter-view to this argument. In the case of NOTA, it is the holder of the right to vote who puts value and moral authority behind a vote by  choosing “none of the above.” But, is it always the case that such a rights-holder would have complete control over the impacts of their decision to exercise NOTA? Is the morally poor quality of candidates the only standard that should motivate voters to exercise NOTA? What implication does the option of NOTA have on the cognitive capacity that helps voters make reasonable political judgments? 

It is not the voters, but the candidate who decides the weight of a vote. It has been the experience of the sex workers, Adivasis, and voters from the minorities that they were never approached by candidates for their votes. These candidates seem to have assessed that the actual political cost is much lesser than the enormous moral gain they make by not approaching these sections. This is confirmed in the moral feelings of the electorally neglected lot, who develop a sense of insult and humiliation when not approached. The voters have an empty right to vote, but no right to be approached by candidates on an equal basis. They feel that they have the strong desire to vote, but feel that their vote is considered less valuable as compared to other voters who are frequently approached by candidates. These voters ­being approached would thus grant equal value to them, irrespective of their social and gender backgrounds. 

While one’s age makes the “adult” a biological state of being that defines universal adult franchise, the right to vote carries value not just as a biological but also as a moral condition by ­assigning equal value to every vote irrespective of gender and religion. It is in this moral sense that the right to vote ­becomes universal. 

It is not always the case that NOTA acquires its moral strength based on the universal criterion of assessing the calibre of a candidate on moral grounds. There could be other social reasons that may result in the exercise of NOTA. Otherwise, how does one understand the higher percentage of NOTA votes in reserved constituencies? It could be argued that it is the specific social character of these constituencies that has some bearing on the decision to exercise NOTA. The electoral politics in reserved constituencies continues to be less competitive and, hence, makes it less motivating for voters to avoid the NOTA option. Arguably, NOTA essentially is an unmediated judgment that is arrived at by a person through their singular reading about the falling standards of the people’s representatives under question. However, this is not a judgment that is reached at after due ­deliberation with the candidates. It is not reached at after the ­intervening power of the voter is tested and not wasted in the “murky” political process that produces such a representative in the first instance. NOTA tends to separate the individual from the principle of collective responsibility because the individual does not take the responsibility of being indirectly responsible for the production of such bad politics.

Adopting the historically sensitive approach will shed some light on the NOTA conundrum. NOTA is also ahistorical in the sense that it is defined in terms of the absolute choice of a voter, and not in terms of the choices that emerge from the historical process that essentially involves the rejection of one candidate in favour of a relatively better one. This exercise falls within the realm of the collective responsibility of reflectively endorsing the relatively better candidate and reflectively rejecting the “bad” one. 

Updated On : 22nd May, 2019

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