Centre Rejects Negative Vote Concept

Posted In Politics, Thoughtworks - By NitiN Kumar Jain On Thursday, January 29th, 2009 With 0 Comments

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After I blogged an article on Election Commission looking for an option of Note to vote for any candidate, I have been keeping a close eye on this issue. Here is the latest update.

The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that there was no question of amending the law to introduce a provision allowing a voter to cast a negative vote during elections.

Additional Solicitor General Amarendra Sharan, appearing before a Bench of Justices B. N. Aggrawal and G. S. Singhvi, opposed a plea to amend the law to incorporate such a provision.

Sharan asserted before the Bench that the existing system of polling was in no way violative of the Constitution, as was being alleged.

The Centre mentioned that just as a voter holds the right to vote, he or she has also the choice of refraining from voting or going to the polling booth.

Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) had filed a PIL in 2004 seeking separate slots in electronic voting machines (EVMs) to give a voter the option of “none of the above”, if he or she does not want to vote for any of the candidates standing in an election.

Despite the Centre opposing the suggestion, the Election Commission in a separate affidavit has stated that it had written to the Union Government as early as in Dec. 12, 2001 recommending such a provision.

According to the Election Commission, it was for the Centre to make amendments to the Representation of Peoples Act for incorporating the provision, as the EC has no powers to decide such issues on its own.

Under the existing provisions of Sections 49(O) and 128 of the Representation of Peoples Act, a voter, who after coming to a polling booth if does not want to cast his vote, has to inform the presiding officer of his intention not to vote, who in turn would make an entry in the relevant rule book after taking the signature of the said voter.

According to the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, the Section 49(O) was violative of the Constitutional provisions guranteed under Article 19 (1( (a) (Freedom of Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Right to Liberty) and violated the secret ballot concept.

In other words, it was claimed that if the presiding officer is informed about the intention not to vote, the voter might become vulnerable to intimidation and harassment by the candidates.

Rejecting the PUCL argument, the Centre has maintained that the concept of secret ballot system was relevant only to the Presidential election involving Members of Parliament.

According to Sharan, the election of the President has to be held by means of secret ballot as per clause (3) of Article 55 of the Constitution, whereas for elections to the State Legislatures and Parliament there is no such constitutional requirement.

The Centre submitted that the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution had earlier examined the issue of introducing negative votes slots in EVMs but decided not to press for the same as it was not practical.

“It may be unrealistic to expect a reasonable percentage of voters to come simply to say that they do not wish to vote for any of the candidates,” the Centre said.

It said that the exercise would be expensive as a lot of effort would have to be made to motivate people to stand in queues to cast negative votes. Stating that there was no public interest involved in the petition filed by the PUCL, the Centre urged the Apex court to dismiss it.