Disillusioned by the political set-up, you do not want to choose any candidate in the fray or support any political party, but still want to exercise your right to vote. In such a situation, does the ballot paper or electronic voting machine (EVM) offer any option? Yes, they do — ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option.

NOTA was first used in India in 2009. Chhattisgarh was the first State in the country to give this right to the voters in the local government elections. In the 2014 general elections, the maximum number of NOTA votes were polled in Uttar Pradesh. For the country as a whole, NOTA garnered 1.08 per cent of the total votes in the 2014 elections.

What prompted NOTA?

On September 27, 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to make the necessary provisions in ballot papers and EVMs to provide a ‘None of the Above’ option for voters who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray. This was to enable voters to exercise their right not to choose a candidate while maintaining their right to secrecy.

How do you maintain secrecy?

The apex court had held that the provision under which one not wishing to vote for any candidate had to inform the Presiding Officer about one’s decision was ultra vires under Article 19 of the Constitution (protection of certain rights regarding freedom of expression) and Section 128 (maintenance of secrecy of voting) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Earlier, since the ballot paper or EVM showed only the list of candidates, a voter could record his vote under Section 49-O (None of the Above) but had to inform the presiding officer at the election booth. This compromised the secrecy of his ballot. But following the court order, the EC provided for the NOTA option in EVMs and ballot papers, thus protecting secrecy of the ballot.

Who designed the NOTA symbol?

The NOTA symbol was designed by Professor Tarun Deep Girdher of National Institute of Design (NID). It took him more than five months to design it. The symbol is a cross on a paper with a list of candidates. The cross is a universal sign denoting disapproval, and this makes it easy to recognise and remember.

The size of the panel for NOTA is same as for the candidates. These words are written in the same language or languages as used in the case of names of candidates.

Where do you find the NOTA symbol?

Below the name of the last candidate on your EVM or ballot paper, there is the button for the NOTA option. Electors can choose not to vote for any of the candidates by pressing the button against NOTA.

Is NOTA used for all elections?

NOTA is available only for direct elections such as the Lok Sabha and State assemblies, not for Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Council.

Does NOTA impact election results?

No, it doesn’t. Any percentage of votes polled for NOTA in a constituency does not affect the results of election, even if it has bagged the most votes. The candidate who gets highest number of votes after NOTA is declared the winner. For NOTA to gain greater sanctity, Rule 64 of the Conduct of Elections Rules will need to be amended. The rule stipulates that the returning officer shall declare the candidate winning the largest number of valid votes to be elected.

Should NOTA be there?

Yes, a choice should be given to the voters. But for it to make a difference to the quality of candidates fielded, it should be made a more powerful tool.

A fortnightly column that unravels poll jargon for first-time voters