A bench headed by Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam asked the Election Commission to make changes in voting machines and ballot papers, giving voters a "none of the above" choice, and publicise this change widely.
The court observed that negative voting would lead to systemic change in elections and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. It also held that this will "foster purity and vibrancy in elections." Reading out the judgement, Justice Sathasivam said, "Democracy is all about choices and voters will be empowered by this right of negative voting. Negative voting will send a clear signal to political parties and candidates as to what the voters think about them."
Voters in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram - where Assembly elections are due in November - will have the right to reject option.
Right now, if a voter goes to a polling booth and does not want to vote for any candidate, he can sign a register and come out. That violates the right of secret ballot.
There is no provision yet to count the "rejection" votes and so these will not impact the result of the election. Activists have proposed that if more than 50 per cent of those who vote reject all candidates, there should be a re-election in that constituency.
The court upheld the argument of petitioner, the People's Union for Civil Liberties, an NGO, that a voter has the right to record disapproval of all candidates listed.
The Election Commission had supported this stand. It had recommended that the government amend rules to include this, but that had not been done.
The Centre had opposed the proposal. It contended that an election is meant to elect and not to reject. It also argued that including a rejection button will confuse voters and will not serve any purpose.
Gandhian activist Anna Hazare had campaigned extensively for poll reforms that would include both the right to reject and the right to recall an elected representative if the electorate is dissatisfied with his or her performance.
Political parties have not made their stand on right to reject clear yet. The BJP had asked for a detailed debate. The Left had sought clarity on what purpose it hoped to serve.