New Voting Opportunities in India

Citizens and activists from the city have welcomed the Supreme Court's decision giving voters the right-to-reject option on electronic voting machines (EVMs). They said the 'none-of-the-above' button on EVMs would improve voter participation, bring in more transparency and eventually ensure that parties field clean candidates to contest the elections.

Lawyer Ritesh Mehta, president of Association for Aiding Justice said he was among the petitioners who sought the reject button on EVMs which led to the apex court judgment. He said the button can be pressed by a voter to reject all the candidates in a poll in case he finds them unsuitable. "The SC judgment will now give voters the right to reject a candidate without disclosing their identity. It will prevent bogus voting and also give an idea on the number of people agreeing with persons contesting the elections,'' he said.

The modified EVM would go a long way in strengthening democracy, say activists. Asim Sarode, lawyer and human rights activist said the decision will help in better voting and in a way strengthen democracy. "Right to dissent is a fundamental right. However, this option was not there in EVMs. As a result, people were disheartened and frustrated as they had little choice than to vote for the candidates in the fray," he said. Sarode said that political parties too would have to think twice before nominating any candidate. While some would contend that elections would have to be held again and again (with the reject button in place) and the expenditure would become unbearable, it will still be justified as the process will strengthen the democracy.

Welcoming the decision, citizen activist Vihar Durve said the right to reject will help improve the system where only good candidates will get elected. "When the option of right to reject vote was not there, people had to choose between bad and worse," he said. Durve, who along with several citizens groups, had been demanding that there should be an option for people to select 'none of the above', said the decision will help in increased participation of voters.

Mukund Sarda, dean, law faculty, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University said, "It is a welcome judgment by the Supreme Court, which has now recognised the voter's right to reject candidates by providing for the 'none-of-the-above' option in the EVMs to be used in all future elections. The judgment will not only go a long way in strengthening Indian democracy but also will result in greater transparency and accountability. The judgment will further ensure that political parties will shy away from fielding corrupt politicians in the electoral fray. This is because the voter will always have to option of pressing the reject button."

However, there is a word of caution too. Maruti Bhapkar, convener of Aam Aadmi Party in Pune said, "This decision is a two-pronged weapon in the hands of common people. If used appropriately, all the corrupt and those who contest election using money and muscle power will be thrown out of the political arena. Even political parties will have to field better candidates after this decision. However, there is the other side as well. If people sway in negative mood and loathe all politics and politicians and use negative vote then the basic democratic structure will debilitate," said Bhapkar. He added that political parties, election commission, civic organizations and the government have to enlighten and educate people on how and why to use right to reject.


Originally published by The Times of India.

Photo by jaipalsingh.

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