Since the introduction of NOTA in 2013, it has become a ritual of sorts to understand its impact after every election. Data from the last 5 years suggests that voters aren’t actually preferring NOTA. NOTA did not poll more than 2% of the total vote share in any election held after 2015.
As noted in an earlier story by Factly, the vote share for NOTA is going down continuously since its introduction in 2013. Even the introduction of the dedicated NOTA symbol in 2015 hasn’t made much difference if one goes by the data. In a total of 38 elections (37 Assembly & one Lok Sabha) held since the introduction of NOTA on the EVM, the vote-share of NOTA crossed 2% only twice.
For this analysis, we have considered data from all the 38 elections (37 Assembly & one Lok Sabha) held since the introduction of NOTA in 2013.
Preference for NOTA is not uniform across India
The preference for NOTA hasn’t been uniform across the country. NOTA vote share crossed the 2% mark only in the states of Chhattisgarh & Bihar and in the Union Territory of Puducherry. The vote share for NOTA was between 1.5% and 2% in six (6) other States/UTs, between 1% and 1.5% in ten (10) States/UTs. In the remaining seventeen (17) States/UTs, the NOTA vote share did not cross 1%. Among the states, Haryana recorded the lowest NOTA percentage of 0.37% overall.
NOTA vote share crossed 3% only in ONE election
NOTA option was on the EVM for every State Assembly at least once and the Lok Sabha election in 2014. In these 38 elections, the vote-share of NOTA did not cross 1% in 16 of the elections and was between 1% and 2% in 20 elections. In other words, the vote share was less than 2% in 95% of these elections. It was more than 3% in only one election, that is Chhattisgarh (2013) and was between 2% & 3% only once in Bihar (2015). In states where NOTA option was on the EVM in two different assembly elections (Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Mizoram & Delhi), the NOTA vote share decreased in the 2nd election everywhere except in the case of Telangana. In Telangana, the NOTA vote share increased from 0.78% in 2014 to 1.09% in 2018.
Proportion of Constituencies with more than 5000 votes for NOTA going down
The number of constituencies where NOTA polled more than 5000 votes has consistently come down in states where the elections were held again. While the number of eligible voters and polling percentage has an impact on this number, the size of the electorate per constituency in about 20 states is more or less similar. In both Bihar (2015) & Chhattisgarh (2013), NOTA polled more than 5000 votes in close to 1/3rd of the constituencies. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, NOTA polled more than 20000 votes in 54 constituencies (about 10%).
In the elections held in 2015, NOTA polled more than 5000 votes in 23% of the constituencies, the highest for any year. This number went down to less than 2% in both 2016 & 2017. It increased to 4.2% in 2018, but this much less than the 11.8% when the same set of states went to polls in 2013. In the case of Chhattisgarh, this number is down from 31 constituencies in 2013 to 16 in 2018. In Rajasthan, this is down from 25 in 2013 to 9 in 2018. However, in Madhya Pradesh, NOTA polled more than 5000 votes in 18 constituencies both in 2013 & 2018. In the case of Telangana, there was not a single constituency where NOTA polled more than 5000 votes in 2014. In 2018 however, NOTA polled more than 5000 votes in one constituency.
NOTA rarely polled more than 5% of the vote in a Constituency
Even if one were to look at the percentage of votes polled for NOTA, data suggests that preference for NOTA is going down. Only in Bihar (2015) & Chhattisgarh (2013), votes polled for NOTA crossed 5% of the total polled vote in more than five (5) constituencies. In all the other elections, the number of such constituencies was less than five. In fact, in 29 of the 38 elections held so far, NOTA did not poll more than 5% of the vote in any of the constituencies. Further, in the elections held in 2016 and 2017, there was not a single constituency where NOTA polled more than 5% of the total polled vote. In 2018 however, NOTA secured more than 5% of the polled vote in four (4) constituencies of Chhattisgarh and in only one (1) constituency of Rajasthan. These numbers are less than the numbers for these states in 2013.
NOTA Vs Margin of Victory
Since the introduction of NOTA, one measure that is used to measure its supposed impact is to count the number of constituencies where NOTA vote exceeded the margin of victory or in other words, counting those constituencies where NOTA vote could have changed the outcome if NOTA vote was secured by the candidate in the 2nd position. Even on this measure, the percentage of such constituencies has come down in 2017 & 2018 compared to 2016. There were 57 such constituencies (9%) in 2013 when NOTA was first introduced. In 2017, this happened in only 6.38% of the constituencies. In the nine assembly elections held in 2018, this happened in 6.56% of the constituencies.
Why are voters losing interest in NOTA?
The State Election Commission of Maharashtra (SECM) has deliberated extensively on this issue to conclude that none of the objectives of the Supreme Court’s 2013 judgment, where it directed Election Commission to include NOTA option on the EVM are being met. The SECM has concluded that NOTA has failed to increase voter participation and has also not compelled political parties to field good candidates. This is because, as it stands today, the NOTA vote does not have any impact on the outcome of the election.
As can be seen from the data, though there was some interest in the initial years (2013 & 2014), the lack of its impact on the outcome of the election seems to have discouraged voters from opting for NOTA in the following years.
What is the way forward?
The only way forward is to amend the laws in such a way that NOTA vote has an impact on the outcome of the election. The State Election Commission of Maharashtra (SECM)’s recent order in this regard could be a model. The SECM has amended the relevant rules which will be applicable for all local body elections in Maharashtra (like zilla parishads, municipalities, corporations). As per the amended rules, NOTA will now be treated as a ‘Fictional Electoral Candidate’ and if NOTA receives the maximum number of votes in any election, a fresh election will be held. The State Election Commission of Haryana also followed suit and issued a similar order recently for the local body elections. It went one step ahead to debar all those candidates who secured less than NOTA the first time around, from contesting the re-election.