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Right to Vote V/s Right Not to Vote

Written by: Shilpa Gadmade
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“ The ballot is stronger than bullets.”

Since Mumbai terror attack “common man" blazed criticism against politicians. Public anger against politicians was reflected through various channels, newspapers, blogs etc. The reaction to 26/11 was bunch of mixed reactions… anger towards system, politicians; sorrow for the fallen heroes who lost their lives because State could not provide them with better weapons for self protection; sympathy towards families who lost their loved ones. On the one hand people lighted candles to show solidarity for brave fighters who sacrificed their lives to save Mumbai, and on the other hand politicians were being criticized for dragging India in such a situation due to ineffectiveness. In many ways people shown that they have no faith in politicians and strongly protested against political apathy. The shock and anger on 26/11 was witnessed in many forwarded e-mails, blogs, and articles.

The debate started whether “Right Not To Vote" exits under section 49-O of THE CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS RULES, 1961? Many columns suggested that people can go to polling booths, confirm their identity, get their finger marked and convey to the presiding election officer that they would prefer not to vote. Many supported that no such right exits because Government has not yet given approval to such law.

The specific provision of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 is as follows:-
49-O. Elector deciding not to vote. -
If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.

The above provision is mentioned in Chapter II of Part IV of the rules. The simple meaning of this provision is if any voter who wishes to exercise "Right Not to Vote" cannot exercise it just sitting at home. This provision enables voter not to cast his vote in favour of any of the Candidate, by registration of his electoral roll number in Form-17A by the Presiding Officer. Voter has to put his signature in front of statement marked to that effect by Presiding Officer. The newly introduced Electronic Voting machines as well as conventional Ballot Paper do not provide option “none of the above”. Therefore, Election Commission in the year 2001 and 2004 has recommended for the suitable changes in the Rule 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961; which deals with form of ballot paper and preparation of voting machines respectively. The same recommendation is reproduced here.

Chapter 7 of the Proposed Electoral Reforms:-
The Commission has received proposals from a very large number of individuals and organizations that there should be a provision enabling a voter to reject all the candidates in the constituency if he does not find them suitable. In the voting using the conventional ballot paper and ballot boxes, an elector can drop the ballot paper without marking his vote against any of the candidates, if he chooses so. However, in the voting using the Electronic Voting Machines, such a facility is not available to the voter. Although, Rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 provides that an elector may refuse to vote after he has been identified and necessary entries made in the Register of Electors and the marked copy of the electoral roll, the secrecy of voting is not protected here inasmuch as the polling officials and the polling agents in the polling station get to know about the decision of such a voter.

The Commission recommends that the law should be amended to specifically provide for negative / neutral voting. For this purpose, Rules 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 may be suitably amended adding a proviso that in the ballot paper and the particulars on the ballot unit, in the column relating to names of candidates, after the entry relating to the last candidate, there shall be a column .None of the above., to enable a voter to reject all the candidates, if he chooses so. Such a proposal was earlier made by the Commission in 2001 (vide letter dated 10.12.2001)."

Though the provision is already in existence, the problem is regarding maintenance of secrecy while exercising “Right not to Vote”. Moreover desired implication of the rule is not clear. Before propagating right not to vote, one must remember that to make democracy work, we have to come together as a notion of participants, not simply observers. If we do not vote we have no right to complain as well. And remaining passive in elections will not help India. Even today most of the educated people do not turn up for voting without considerable excuse. Before reacting to any event we should act.


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