In the recently held Gujarat elections, there was an unusual pattern of voting. Many people opted for NOTA, which stands for “none of the above”.
According to the Election Commission of India’s website, 1.8% of the valid voters voted in favour of NOTA. The figure of 1.8% in a first-past-the-post system matters a lot. If these votes had shifted in favour of the Congress, the fight could have been more interesting. On the other hand, if the NOTA votes had gone to the BJP, they would have won by a more handsome margin.
NOTA technically empowers the voters to register their angst and grievance against all political parties at once. The rationale being, that the voter feels that no candidate in his constituency is suitable to represent him and therefore, he opts NOTA. But, does it change the course of an election?
Many people argue that since the NOTA votes are akin to invalid votes and have no effect in counting the votes in favour of the candidates, it is futile. But technically, this argument forgets the basic mechanism of a voting system in the constituency.
Suppose, in XYZ constituency, two candidates have thrown their hat in the ring. The two candidates are Sumit and Pankaj. There are 100 voters in the constituency, and all of them are aware of their legal and constitutional right, and they form a beeline to vote. Now, if 55 voters decide to vote in favour of Sumit, Pankaj will lose, even if all of rest 45 vote in favour of Pankaj.
But say, 15 voters who voted for Sumit in the previous election are unhappy with his work and governance. So, they meet and decide not to vote for Sumit. But, they equally disdain Pankaj’s way of politics and detest his manifesto. So, they decide not to vote for Pankaj too. But, being aware citizens, they want to exercise their democratic right to vote – so, they vote for NOTA.
Now, 15 votes are not counted in the final exercise and therefore, the valid ballots counted in favour of either candidate’s bog down to 85. The other voters are adamant about their preferences. So now, out of 85, 45 votes go to Pankaj and 40 go to Sumit. Therefore, Pankaj wins the battle despite having the same share of voters in his clutch.
In another case, say 97 people opt for NOTA and only three vote in favour of either candidate. So, the person who receives a minimum of two votes will win the election. This is how NOTA swings the election. In the first case, Sumit who was comfortably winning the election had to lose out because of NOTA. It will coax him to listen to the needs and grievances of people so that he can enchant the voters in his favour in the next elections.
But still, there lies a flaw in NOTA. The first-past-the-post system works in the manner such that the person getting the maximum share of votes in a constituency wins. He doesn’t necessarily need a 51% vote share, all he needs is a vote share that gives him a majority over the other political parties.
In case of NOTA, as I mentioned in the case two, even if NOTA gets the maximum share of votes, i.e. 97, the winner is the individual with a minimum of two votes. In some way, it violates the democratic principle of “rule by the people”, because of most of the people, in fact, 97% of the population voted in neither’s favour.
In such cases, when NOTA outsmarts both the candidates, there should be a different provision. One way could be that both the candidates are replaced by other candidates in a re-poll by their political parties. The other way could be that the NOTA voters get an option register their consent – i.e., if they are comfortable to be represented by the person elected by a bare 3% of the voting population.
One more cogent and simple way could be to keep the post of M.L.A vacant for the region and the region be represented by the Governor through his representative in the legislative assembly and for all other purposes. This vacant seat in the constituency will keep reminding the parties and candidates to listen to the people’s grievances and will keep them on their toes.
Democracy is all about empowering people, and empowering NOTA will empower people to a large extent.