Increase in ‘NOTA’ votes is deeply problematic

How reasonable is it to expect citizens with no faith in any party or candidate to still take the trouble of going to the booth and cast votes in favour of ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA)?

Gauhar Raza

There has been a spurt in recent years in the number of votes cast in favour of NOTA (None of the Above). Indeed, it has increased exponentially. This could well be an indicator of loss of trust in all political parties and candidates.

But I am not ready to believe that there are lakhs of citizens in the country who are so conscientious that they, on the day of voting, despite losing trust in all political parties and candidates will go and cast their vote. Most people, especially middle classes who are never tired of saying ‘election is a sham’ and ‘all politicians are corrupt’ actually don't go to vote.

The only other reason for the sharp rise in NOTA could be that machine tampering is made easy if the stolen votes are shifted to NOTA.

It is no secret that millions of Indian citizens have no trust in the Electronic Voting Machine. Despite vehement and incessant defence put up by the Election Commission and wavering attitude of political parties, a large section of people for various reasons is opposed to the EVM.

Most of those who have lost trust base their opinion on personal experience of completely unexpected results in the past few years. Once the results are announced political pundits who survive on media debates take the outcome as gospel truth and blabber for hours on how and why the winner has won and why the loser has lost.

They provide threadbare analysis of imaginary social, caste, religious and economic reasons because it is their bread and butter. If they say that ‘EVM has been tampered, don't believe the results’ the debate cannot be carried on ad nauseam, and for sure, the winning party will try to block their future appearance in TV debates for the next five years.

The most important argument given in favour of EVM is that randomisation of machines and the use of alphabetic order of candidates’ names makes it impossible for anyone to write a programme for stealing votes from one candidate and depositing them into someone else’s account. Let us try to understand the argument.

The claim is that since the number of machines used in any election is very large, all EVMs cannot be tampered. Which is a falls assumption, because unlike booth capturing, theoretically if one EVM can be tampered, all machine can be tampered. All machines are replica of each other, whereas all booths are different from each other.

But let us go along with the argument. First, even if someone tries to tamper some machines, she/he will not know which booth will be assigned to the tampered machines. The randomisation of machines at various stages ensures that any predesigned conspiracy will fail.

Secondly, the buttons on voting unit appear in alphabetic order, therefore the position of a candidate with his name starting with alphabet B, will depend on how many candidates with names starting with alphabet A are contesting in the same constituency. Which makes it increasingly difficult to write a computer programme, that can divert votes cast by pressing button against the name starting with B, to any other candidate. How will the programmer know which button is assigned to B? The arguments are technically more complex, I have made them simple for non-technical readers.

However, in this whole debate we have forgotten about the button that is assigned to NOTA. Mathematically, the position of NOTA is fixed. It is always the last button on voters’ unit, and is never randomised.

A simple programme may be written to shift votes from a candidate’s account into NOTA. If someone decided to divert votes of candidate B to NOTA, at the least, the complexity of the programme is reduced by half.

I suggest that political parties pressurise the Election Commission to randomise the NOTA button as well. Treat it as a candidate with name N.

I know that the easiest counter argument will be that it will confuse the voter and she will not be able to distinguish between a candidate and NOTA. My response to such argument is that if we can trust the voter to distinguish between often confusing names of the candidates, then we should also trust them to identify NOTA button correctly irrespective of its place on the voter unit panel.

For all the latest India News, Follow India Section.