Supreme Court in People’S Union For Civil … vs Union Of India & Anr, decided on 27 September, 2013
51) Democracy being the basic feature of our constitutional set up, there can be no two opinions that free and fair elections would alone guarantee the growth of a healthy democracy in the country. The ‘Fair’ denotes equal opportunity to all people. Universal adult suffrage conferred on the citizens of India by the Constitution has made it possible for these millions of individual voters to go to the polls and thus participate in the governance of our country. For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country. This can be best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values, who win the elections on a positive vote. Thus in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose none of the above (NOTA) button, which will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate. This situation palpably tells us the dire need of negative voting.
52) No doubt, the right to vote is a statutory right but it is equally vital to recollect that this statutory right is the essence of democracy. Without this, democracy will fail to thrive. Therefore, even if the right to vote is statutory, the significance attached with the right is massive. Thus, it is necessary to keep in mind these facets while deciding the issue at hand.
53) Democracy is all about choice. This choice can be better expressed by giving the voters an opportunity to verbalize themselves unreservedly and by imposing least restrictions on their ability to make such a choice. By providing NOTA button in the EVMs, it will accelerate the effective political participation in the present state of democratic system and the voters in fact will be empowered. We are of the considered view that in bringing out this right to cast negative vote at a time when electioneering is in full swing, it will foster the purity of the electoral process and also fulfill one of its objective, namely, wide participation of people.
54) Free and fair election is a basic structure of the Constitution and necessarily includes within its ambit the right of an elector to cast his vote without fear of reprisal, duress or coercion. Protection of elector’s identity and affording secrecy is therefore integral to free and fair elections and an arbitrary distinction between the voter who casts his vote and the voter who does not cast his vote is violative of Article 14. Thus, secrecy is required to be maintained for both categories of persons.
55) Giving right to a voter not to vote for any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy. Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties. When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity.
56) The direction can also be supported by the fact that in the existing system a dissatisfied voter ordinarily does not turn up for voting which in turn provides a chance to unscrupulous elements to impersonate the dissatisfied voter and cast a vote, be it a negative one. Furthermore, a provision of negative voting would be in the interest of promoting democracy as it would send clear signals to political parties and their candidates as to what the electorate think about them.
57) As mentioned above, the voting machines in the Parliament have three buttons, namely, AYES, NOES, and ABSTAIN. Therefore, it can be seen that an option has been given to the members to press the ABSTAIN button. Similarly, the NOTA button being sought for by the petitioners is exactly similar to the ABSTAIN button since by pressing the NOTA button the voter is in effect saying that he is abstaining from voting since he does not find any of the candidates to be worthy of his vote.
58) The mechanism of negative voting, thus, serves a very fundamental and essential part of a vibrant democracy. The following countries have provided for neutral/protest/negative voting in their electoral systems:
|S.No |Name of the Country |Method of Voting |Form of Negative |
| | | |Vote |
|1. |France |Electronic |NOTA |
|2. |Belgium |Electronic |NOTA |
|3. |Brazil |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|4. |Greece |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|5. |Ukraine |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|6. |Chile |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|7. |Bangladesh |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|8. |State of Nevada, USA |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|9. |Finland |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote and/or|
| | | |‘write in*’ |
|10. |Sweden |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote and/or|
| | | |‘write in*’ |
|11. |United States of |Electronic/Ballot |Blank Vote and/or|
| |America |(Depending on |‘write in*’ |
| | |State) | |
|12. |Colombia |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote |
|13. |Spain |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote |
* Write-in’ – The ‘write-in’ form of negative voting allows a voter to cast a vote in favour of any fictional name/candidate.
59) The Election Commission also brought to the notice of this Court that the present electronic voting machines can be used in a constituency where the number of contesting candidates is up to 64. However, in the event of there being more than 64 candidates in the poll fray, the conventional system of ballot paper is resorted to. Learned counsel appearing for the Election Commission also asserted through supplementary written submission that the Election Commission of India is presently exploring the possibility of developing balloting unit with 200 panels. Therefore, it was submitted that if in case this Court decides to uphold the prayers of the petitioners herein, the additional panel on the balloting unit after the last panel containing the name and election symbol of the last contesting candidate can be utilized as the NOTA button. Further, it was explicitly asserted in the written submission that the provision for the above facility for a negative or neutral vote can be provided in the existing electronic voting machines without any additional cost or administrative effort or change in design or technology of the existing machines. For illustration, if there are 12 candidates contesting an election, the 13th panel on the balloting unit will contain the words like “None of the above” and the ballot button against this panel will be kept open and the elector who does not wish to vote for any of the abovementioned 12 contesting candidates, can press the button against the 13th panel and his vote will be accordingly recorded by the control unit. At the time of the counting, the votes recorded against serial number 13 will indicate as to how many electors have decided not to vote for any candidate.
60) Taking note of the submissions of Election Commission, we are of the view that the implementation of the NOTA button will not require much effort except for allotting the last panel in the EVM for the same.
61) In the light of the above discussion, we hold that Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O of the Rules are ultra vires Section 128 of the RP Act and Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution to the extent they violate secrecy of voting. In view of our conclusion, we direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called “None of the Above” (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy. Inasmuch as the Election Commission itself is in favour of the provision for NOTA in EVMs, we direct the Election Commission to implement the same either in a phased manner or at a time with the assistance of the Government of India. We also direct the Government of India to provide necessary help for implementation of the above direction. Besides, we also direct the Election Commission to undertake awareness programmes to educate the masses.
Categories: Election law