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2024 Lok Sabha Polls

Poll officers can’t force electors who ‘refuse’ to vote at poll booths, says Election Commission rule

NEW DELHI: At a time when the Election Commission pledges to leave no stone unturned to bring eligible voters to polling stations to exercise their franchise, not many electors are aware of their right to “refuse to vote” even after registering their identities before the presiding officer.

That right, which is separate from the provision to vote under NOTA, can be exercised under the ‘Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 Rule 49-O’, which elaborates the little-known option for electors to abstain from voting even after reaching the polling booth.

While the NOTA (None Of The Above) option allows voters to express their lack of confidence in any of the candidates seeking mandate, the ‘refusal to vote’ option allows an elector to shun the poll process in its entirety. The 49-O clause directs the presiding officer that once an elector refuses to vote inside a booth after having his credentials verified, the officer shall put “a remark to this effect against the entry in Form 17A and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such a remark”.

“This is not a new introduction of rights. It has existed for some time. The electors, though, have very little idea about it. Most people are unaware of this option,” a senior official of the EC told PTI. The abstention from voting would, of course, play no role in affecting poll outcome and the candidate who secures the highest number of valid votes polled, irrespective of his winning margin, would be declared elected, he clarified. On whether the EC would raise the awareness of the electors in this regard, the official said, ”There is no such plan at the moment.” Underlining the advantage of rule 49-O, he stated that the rule “provided an option to reject all candidates while simultaneously keeping a check on bogus voting”.

Statistics from the EC state that in the 2019 edition of general elections, 1,389 votes were ‘rejected due to other reasons (at polling station)’ across India.

It could not be ascertained, though, whether all or a fraction of these votes were rejected for people exercising their rights under rule 49-O.

The rule states that “if an elector, subsequent to his electoral roll number duly entered in the ‘Register of Voters’ Form 17A as well as his signature/ thumb impression duly taken, decides not to vote, he shall not be forced to cast his vote”.

“In the Form, in place of ‘Under Rule’, left without voting or ‘Refused to Vote’ will be inserted for those electors who after signing in ‘Register of Voters’ wish to leave without voting,” it says.

In the event of the “allot” button on the EVM’s ‘Control Unit’, which readies the ballot unit for “recording a vote”, getting activated when an elector refuses to vote, the presiding officer or the third polling officer should direct the next voter to proceed to the voting compartment to record his/her vote, the poll panel official pointed out.

However, if the “allot” button has been pressed to “release voting” on the ballot unit when the elector refuses to vote, the presiding officer would then have to reboot the control unit by killing its power and disconnect the VVPAT, before enabling the machine to accept the next vote, he said.

“The power needs to be switched on after the ‘busy’ indicator goes off and the ‘close’ button becomes functional to close the poll,” he explained.

Source: Press Trust of India

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