As India prepares for its parliamentary elections, the topic of blank ballots is sparking discussions. This important vote will shape the future of the world’s most populous nation for the next five years.

Introduced in 2013, the “none-of-the-above” (NOTA) option provides voters with a way to reject all candidates. However, concerns about its fairness have surfaced among election observers.

“I’m going to vote, but I’ll choose the NOTA option,” said a woman in her thirties from New Delhi. “Taxes have been rising under the Modi government, and the Congress party hasn’t offered any viable alternatives. It’s frustrating,” she added, expressing dissatisfaction with both major parties.

In India, voters use electronic voting machines, with the NOTA button placed conveniently at the end of the candidate list.

Initially, voters had to register with the general Election Commission of India to use the NOTA option, a rule criticized for potentially compromising ballot secrecy. However, in a 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court mandated the inclusion of the “none” option, stressing the importance of allowing dissatisfied voters to voice their opinions, which could potentially increase voter turnout.

Despite this reasoning, Rahul Verma, a fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research, points out, “NOTA has hardly averaged 1.50% in any constituency over the last three election cycles. There’s no solid evidence to suggest a link between NOTA and increased voter turnout.”

In the recent general elections first phase on April 19, voter turnout was about 66.1%, down from 69.5% in 2019. Similarly, the second phase on April 26 saw lower turnout compared to the previous election cycle.

Concerns have also been raised about the allocation of NOTA votes. In the 2017 local assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, voters reported instances where their NOTA selections appeared to benefit Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Likewise, in the ongoing general elections, voters worry whether their NOTA choices might inadvertently support the BJP, although the validity of these concerns remains uncertain.

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