To Vote Or Not to Vote

Is ‘not to vote’ a fundamental right of the citizen? In other words, can I or you prefer ‘not to vote’ in an election, and record this fact in front of the Presiding Officer, if we are not satisfied with the available choices of candidates on the EVM (Electronic Voting Machine)?

Well, even if there is no such provision exist anywhere in the Constitution of India, Rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 confers upon the voters, an option to NOT TO VOTE, if they wish so, and record this fact in the register of voters (with the Presiding Officer) so that no election fraud or misuse of voting takes place on that person’s name later that day. But how many of us are aware about the existence of Rule 49 O?

The text of the Rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules says:

“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.”

According to the Rule, the voter choosing ‘not to vote’ must record it with the presiding officer at the election booth, an act that will violate the ‘secrecy of the ballot,’ the cornerstone of the whole electoral process. Earlier, in the paper ballot era, it was possible to ‘waste’ one’s vote, without violating secrecy of the ballot, by stamping on multiple candidates. However, the current scenario do not give this leeway to the voters anymore. Since the EVM has only the list of the contesting candidates on it, voters can’t make use of this wild option to choose none.

Perhaps fed up with the current crop of candidates that we get to choose from in an election, and given one’s inability to reject them if so preferred, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been moved by People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) seeking a direction to the Centre and the Election Commission to induct a provision for “negative” voting in the Representation of the People Act, and hence giving the voter the right to register his “rejection” of the candidates. Perhaps we may have to wait a little more to see if we really get a chance to ‘vote out’ our politicians with a single button press on the EVM.

However it is worth mentioning here that unlike some of the hoax mails circulating in the web, there is no provision whatsoever in the Constitution of India or the Conduct of Election Rules that empowers the Election Commission of India to order a re-poll should the winning margin of the candidate is less than the number of negative votes polled. This is totally an absurd claim, and nowhere near to truth.

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