‘Blank vote’ arouses controversy in India’s general election

NEW DELHI — The casting of blank ballots is becoming an issue in the general election underway for the lower house of India’s parliament, a vote that will determine the political direction of the world’s most populous nation for the next five years.

The “none-of-the-above”(NOTA) option, which allows voters to reject all candidates, was introduced in 2013 to encourage more voters to cast ballots by increasing their range of choices. But some election observers question its fairness.

“I will go to vote, but will press the NOTA button,” said a woman in her 30s, who works in New Delhi. “Taxes have kept rising under the Modi government. Of course, the Congress [party] has done nothing, so I can’t support anyone,” she said, criticizing both Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the main opposition group.

Indian voters cast their ballots using electronic voting machines. The NOTA button is at the bottom of the list of candidates.

When the electronic voting system was introduced, voters were required to register with the Election Commission of India to exercise the NOTA option. That rule drew fire on the grounds that it put the secrecy of the ballot at risk.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that voters should have the “none” option, citing, among other reasons, the need to encourage as many voters as possible to participate in politics.

India is proud of its status as the world’s largest democracy. The high court’s logic in its 2013 ruling was that even if voters are unhappy with the candidates on offer, giving them a way to express their dissatisfaction would encourage more people to vote.

However, according to Rahul Verma, a fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research, “Looking at election results in the last three cycles, NOTA hardly polls 1.50%, on average, in any constituency. There is no empirical analysis to suggest that NOTA is linked to higher voter turnout.”

Voter turnout in the first phase of the current general election, held on April 19, was about 66.1%, down from 69.5% in the previous election in 2019. Turnout was also lower in the second phase, on April 26, than in the same stage in 2019.

Questions have also been raised over whether NOTA votes will go into the correct column. In the 2017 local assembly election in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, for example, voters complained that even though they pressed the NOTA button at certain polling stations, their votes went to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, according to local media.

Likewise, in the current general election, there are voters who wonder whether their NOTA votes will wind up with the BJP, although it is unclear whether these concerns are justified.

source: asia.nikkei

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