49-O Elector deciding not to vote:-If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.
Present Implications of Rule 49-O
Since the ballot paper / Electronic voting machine (EVM) contains only the list of candidates, a voter cannot record his vote under Section 49-O directly. He must inform the presiding officer at the election booth. This violates the secrecy of the ballot. However, with paper ballot a different method is used to "waste" ones vote, which is stamping on multiple candidates. In fact this was the standard method of giving null votes without violating secrecy before the advent of the EVM.
At present, in an election, a winner will be declared irrespective of the number of 'non-votes'. However, a note of every 'non-vote' will be made with the Election Officer, and the total number of non-voters will, presumably, be available under the Right to Information Act.
Proposals by the Election Commission of India
Among the proposed electoral reforms submitted in 2004 to the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh the then Chief Election Commissioner of India, T.S. Krishnamurthy, suggested the following:
NEGATIVE / NEUTRAL VOTING
The Commission has received proposals from a very large number of individuals and organizations that there should be a provision enabling a voter to reject all the candidates in the constituency if he does not find them suitable. In the voting using the conventional ballot paper and ballot boxes, an elector can drop the ballot paper without marking his vote against any of the candidates, if he chooses so. However, in the voting using the Electronic Voting Machines, such a facility is not available to the voter. Although, Rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 provides that an elector may refuse to vote after he has been identified and necessary entries made in the Register of Electors and the marked copy of the electoral roll, the secrecy of voting is not protected here inasmuch as the polling officials and the polling agents in the polling station get to know about the decision of such a voter.
The Commission recommends that the law should be amended to specifically provide for negative / neutral voting. For this purpose, Rules 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 may be suitably amended adding a proviso that in the ballot paper and the particulars on the ballot unit, in the column relating to names of candidates, after the entry relating to the last candidate, there shall be a column None of the above, to enable a voter to reject all the candidates, if he chooses so. Such a proposal was earlier made by the Commission in 2001 (vide letter dated 10.12.2001).
A hoax has been circulating which claims that if the '49-O' votes more than those of the winning candidate, then that poll will be canceled and will have to be re-polled. Furthermore, it claims that the contestants will be banned and they cannot contest the re-polling for their life time. This is false and has no basis whatsoever.
Criticism of proposals regarding negative voting and annulment of polling due to neutral votes
The proposals of negative voting by the election commission and annulment of polling if neutral votes exceed those of the winning candidate have been criticised by experts.
It is the duty of every citizen to educate himself / herself about the agenda of the candidates and to vote conscientiously for the candidate they think is better. The very purpose of an election is that the representatives should be chosen by the people. Encouraging people not to express their preferred candidate goes against the intended purpose. For this reason, voting is compulsory by law in Australia. Also, annulling an election would result in much waste of public funds spent to conduct polls.
An argument in favour of provision of neutral voting is that it ensures the individual's freedom to choose whether or not to vote.