HC rejects last-minute bid to include protest vote

It felt the measure would disrupt election schedule and confuse voters

On the eve of the elections, the Bombay High Court heard a high-stakes PIL urging the inclusion of a button on Electronic Voting Machines to cast a 'none of the above' vote.

Though the hearing and deliberations lasted till 7 pm, the court did not think it fit to 'disrupt the election schedule' and 'confuse voters' at the 11th hour.
However, it accepted that there was no specific legal provision for being able to register a protest vote, and has scheduled a March hearing.

A bench comprising Justice AM Khanwilkar and Nitin Jamdar last Tuesday refused to grant the interim reliefs sought by the petitioner, Aparna Bedekar, as it would have meant staying the use of EVMs in the Municipal Elections and would have brought the polls to a grinding halt.

The court observed, "We are in agreement with the submission of the State Election Commission that the grievance of this petitioner ought not to be entertained at this eleventh hour which will create utter confusion in the minds of voters in absence of proper awareness about the manner in which the EVM can be used."

It added, "The suggestion made by the petitioner that secrecy of vote can be preserved if the voter is allowed to press the 'END' button after entering the polling booth for voting, if accepted... would be an indirect way of recognising the right of the voter to cast his vote to none of the candidates contesting the election... [But] for the time being, suffice it to observe that this is not a fit case for grant of interim relief."

Bedekar had challenged the procedure laid out for the use of EVMs in the civic polls. Gorwadkar argued that the procedure laid out in 'The Procedure for use of Electronic Voting Machine at Elections to Municipal Corporation Order, 2005' denied voters the 'secrecy of vote', vital to democratic, free and fair elections.

The order provides for the eventuality where a voter decides not to cast his vote, after having signed in the register of voters. According to the procedure, the presiding officer makes a remark against the signature. The petition states that this violates the secrecy of whom the voter wants to vote for.

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