Friday, December 26, 2008

Vote "none of the above"

Recently I read José Saramago’s Seeing. Its about a capital city where seventy per cent of the voters cast blank votes in the national elections. And at the repeat election, eighty three per cent of the votes are blank. The authorities, seized with panic, declare a state of emergency and decamp from the capital... Close on the heels of reading Saramago's Seeing comes this welcome news that the Election Commission of India has suggested that one more option be incorporated into the Electronic Voting Machine, enabling voters to reject all the candidates. Long live Indian democracy!

Election Commission wants Electronic Voting Machine options expanded

by Soma Mookherjee
The Statesman, 26 December 2008

Worried about the increasing tendency of the electorate to not exercise their franchise, a practice that often encourages impersonation, the Election Commission has suggested the Centre include one more option in the EVM that would enable such voter to press a button indicating her lack of faith in any of the contesting candidates.

As part of the current system, if any voter doesn't want to back any of the listed candidates, she has to state as much to the presiding officer before her vote can be regarded as invalid. But few voters makes use of the provision so as not to incur the wrath of political parties which deploy election agents at all polling stations. But, if the EVM has an option stating “None of the above (candidates)”, a voter having no faith in the any of the contestants, can speak her mind without any political party getting any wiser. At the same time, no proxy voter can fill in for her.

After the Mumbai terrorist attacks, people across the nation and some NGOs became more vocal in expressing their lack of faith in politicians. Election Commission sources said that some NGOs were gearing up to appeal to people to invoke Rule 49 (O) as per Conduct of Election Rules 1961.

This rule allows a voter to go the polling station, sign the voters’ register and the option to desist from voting in favour of any of the contesting candidates. But sometimes it becomes difficult for a voter to opt for Rule 49(O) owing to the presence of agents of different political parties.

EC sources said earlier, when ballot papers were used, an electorate could easily render her vote invalid by casting it in favour of all candidates but such an option is not available with the EVM.

Considering all this, the Election Commission of India has recommended the Centre change the Representatives of People's Act 1951 and include the option "none of the above'' in EVMs.


preeti said...

How about voting on the net with smart voting cards? Since 99% of armed forces personnel can not exercise their right, this would be the perfect solution.
Mind you a number of celebrities would also be able to vote. Once that is accomplished, voting must be made compulsory with punitive actions against those who do not.
Think about it?

Anonymous said...

We are a democracy, and imposing punitive action on those who don't vote will not lead to corrective measures, which I believe is our primary goal (as far as correcting India's politicians is concerned). However, an online voting system, if carried out properly, will enable majority of educated middle and upper middle class to have a crucial say in the elections - which I think can change the political landscape of India.

Dave said...

Online voting has yet to be developed even in countries like the US, because of the vast percentage of the population that does not have appropriate internet access.

In India, the rural poor outnumbers you significantly :) Peek out of your bubble once in a while; allowing online voting would quickly open up an order of magnitude larger opportunities for voter fraud, while further disenfranchising an already disenfranchised population.

Anonymous said...

Forget the mechanics of voting - the powers-that-be don't really want to register voters. Here's an illustration of how citizens are prevented from getting Voter ID cards. My example is, yes, West Bengal. Having missed noticing when the concerned department announced "drives" to register voters, and having moved residence a few times, I have not voted since the early 80s. This time I want to. Last August, the Trinamool Congress went on a drive in my Kolkata neighbourhood, distributing application forms. Typically, they couldn't tell me where to submit mine, partly because my constituency has been re-cast and the party workers belonged to other parts of the city. They kept me trudging to at least four separate voting booths. Not one had the addresses of my immediate neighbourhood, which is middle to upper middle class. It was clear they weren't interested in my kind! I set off for the nearest - but by no means near - voter registration office of the State Govt. They had no information to give, choosing to hector me for not knowing - as my "duty as a citizen" - what I obviously could not know about the new geography of my constituency. A man ahead of me in the queue, who had done all as prescribed and waited several months, was coolly sent off with the admonition to apply again! Later, I was also told that, in view of the long gap in my voting record, I must explain my reasons for not voting. Which cannot be other than an infringement of a citizen's rights.
Anyway, the conduct of the Govt office staff was as hostile and arrogant as Left Front rule has made typical (though let no one pretend that the Congress, '71-'77, was any better). In other words, the political class, whatever their rhetoric, don't really care to have ALL voters vote, but only those they believe/hope will back them.

The other oddity is the lack of any continuous system of voter registration. Why should the State Govt's Voter Registration office not process and issue Voter ID cards whenever a citizen applies?

Re online voting, it is immaterial how many get to use it. However small as a percentage of the total voter list, the absolute numbers of the 'Net-enabled are not small. My experience, at age 63, leads me to conclude that, rather than be disfranchised by petty political functionaries (both in and out of Govt), I'd prefer to cast my vote, perhaps for Nobody - an option becoming more attractive by the day!
Finally, the mechanics of voting, the efficiency of voting machines, etc are well worth discussing. But so long as the political class, so united in its corruption, holds sway over our fates, no system can succeed.

bagchipar said...

More than two years back (on May 2006) I had an opportunity to discuss the issue(provision of “none of the above” button in EVM) with an central observer delegated by election commission of india to vigil electoral process in assembly election of west Bengal. As the senior IAS officer from Karnataka had been associated with electoral process for a long time his opinion may be considered. As per his opinion, in recent times there is a tendency of fractured verdict in elections held in different tiers all over the country. If such option is left for the electorate the chance of indecisive election process enhances which means huge wastage of public money. The spirit of right to rejection cannot be ignored but in broader perspective the matter can be assessed . I think that the opinion of that senior bureaucrat cannot be thrown into waste paper basket out rightly. However I personally support the proposal of introduction of “none of the above” button in EVM which may reflect public opinion in true sense. Though nobody can deny that in a large country like india the elections are held with various kinds of malpractices , those with the vested interest may jeopardize the entire exercise. A national debate can easily be organized over the issue

Deb S. said...

Just stopping to wish you a Happy New Year!