Voters have the power to reject a Candidate

Incarcerated candidates filing their nominations in absentia, sitting MPs surfacing only at election time and leaders making/breaking alliances at the drop of a hat — if you have had enough of them, rule 49 (O) — that allows a voter to not vote for any of the candidates — may be what you are looking for. 

    In election season, while experts and NGOs rue the dismal awareness levels about the no-vote rule, there are some who say the time has come to go ‘‘a step further’’ by including a novote button on the EVM to maintain secrecy of ballot. 

    As per Rule 49 (O) of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961, a voter can register his vote, but not vote for any candidate. The voter needs to fill a form that is available with the presiding officer. While the vote would not be counted, it will be included in the voter turnout figures. Unfortunately, the ‘‘negative’’ vote will have no effect on deciding the winner. 

    As an election official explains: ‘‘If all but 10 voters in a con
stituency with 1 lakh voters use 49 (O), then the candidate with six votes would win.’’ Says chief electoral officer Satbir Silas Bedi: ‘‘The voter is required to sign in a special register. These votes are not counted and the winner is decided by the valid vote cast.’’ It also helps in controlling proxy voting. 

    ‘‘Not many people know about this rule. It reflects the local sentiment about all the listed candidates from that area and if a majority of voters opt for this, it should be taken seriously,’’ said Dr Saroj Giri, lecturer, political science, Delhi University. 

    ‘‘What is the point of having a rule that has no effect on the system. It needs to be changed. If the number of non-votes is more or substantially high than the votes cast against various candidates, there should be an option for a re-election in that constituency. The matter, which was brought before the Supreme Court, was forwarded to a larger Bench in February,’’ said Kamini Jaiswal, lawyer, Supreme Court. 

    There are also worries about the fact that the moment a voter approaches the presiding officer asking for the form, his secrecy is com
promised. ‘‘The purpose is defeated if a person has to tell the presiding officer that he/she doesn’t want to vote for any of the listed candidates,’’ 

    Experts stress that the inclusion of ‘none of the above’ option in the EVM is a viable option. In the days of the paper ballot, a person could cancel his/her vote by marking more than one symbols.
 
    There are some who feel that the time has come for scrapping 49 (O) altogether. ‘‘If we want to enjoy the fruits of democracy, the least we can do is vote. Why should one waste a vote?’’ 

    Youth for Equality, which is contesting the general elections for the first time, is creating awareness about 49 (O). ‘‘We visited villages near Modinagar where people have decided not to vote. We tried convincing them to use 49 (O). Though the votes are not counted, if the numbers are big enough it gives a message,’’ 

POWER TO SAY NO 

49 (O) is a rule in The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, under which a person can go to the polling station but not cast his vote if he/she doesn’t like the listed candidates in the area. The vote will not be counted and the winner will be decided on the basis of valid votes 

HOW TO USE 49 (O) OPTION 

Just inform the presiding officer at the poll booth about your decision. The decision is recorded in a register which is signed by the voter

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