Making Protest Votes Count

Image from The Guardian. Counting votes in a UK election.

All votes are counted, recorded and announced for each constituency.

That includes all ballot papers where the voter has not voted for a candidate.

Like all democratic votes, protest votes will be included in news reports and national results only if the numbers make them significant and newsworthy.

In the 2010 General Election, the UK total of protest and 'spoilt' votes was around 295,000.  That is a large number, but it represents only 1% of voters.  So it was not news.  Meanwhile, 34% of registered voters (16m) just didn't vote.

Goal:  If just some of the unheard 34% Vote for what they believe in, the results of the election can change.  See the Real Results.

Goal:  If just some Vote NONE, then the protest for change can be the biggest ever public protest in UK history.  Large or small, it can establish the protest vote as part of UK politics.

See the Video + live tweets.  Get a PosterWhy Vote NONE?.

Protest votes must be clear.  To make a protest visible, don't just 'spoil the ballot'.

Here's why…

Direct action - by voting None

At present, UK elections are like a referendum where you can only say 'yes' to what is on offer.  That will continue until enough voters clearly say 'no'.

There have been petitions asking for 'None of the Above' (NOTA) on the ballot paper for many years.  However, like the demand for votes for women in the early 20th century, success doesn't come just from asking.

Voters have to make it happen.  We already have the vote.  It just requires some of the Unheard Third to vote NONE in protest, instead of being silent.

Here's how it works in more detail…

Classifying protest votes

Image from The Guardian. Counting votes at a UK election.

Your protest vote will be rejected as a vote for a candi­date.

To be a visible protest, you then want it to be classified as a protest vote.

If the rejections multiply, just the huge number will be newsworthy.

But classification is important.  Protest needs to be recognised and heard as protest, not dismissed as voters' mistakes or 'spoilt ballots'.

The Electoral Commission's guide for those who count the votes requires that rejected votes be classified and counted under four reasons for rejection:

- absence of official mark [polling station stamp];
- voting for more than one candidate;
- writing or mark by which the voter could be identified;
- unmarked or void for uncertainty.

The examples given include a protest vote (below) where the voter has written 'None of the Above' with a tick.  The advice is to classify it as 'voter's intention uncertain'.

Ballot paper image from the Electoral Commission guide, with 'None of the Above' written by the voter.

Of course elections are about selecting candidates.  And of course a protest vote must be rejected as a vote for a candidate.  But by mixing protest votes with mistakes and unclear or 'spoilt' ballots, this classification is used to silence UK democratic protest.

Like absentions in meetings and in parliament, protest votes should be counted separately.  It is indefensible not to recog­nise that there are political views beyond what is being offered by the parties.  If enough people vote NONE, it will become indefensible in practice.

The weakness in their classification is that the 'voter's intent' in the example is clear.  No sane person could fail to under­stand it, especially in the current political environment.

However, it is technically not clear beyond dispute.  There is a tick in a candidate box, which can be accepted as a vote in place of a cross.  So only the scribbled words show it's not a vote for the candidate.

Protest votes - clarity and number

To establish a right to say 'no' in UK elections, protest votes must be clear beyond dispute, and multiply in number. 

Ensure your protest vote is clear

- Don't put a cross (or tick) anywhere.

- Don't write anything else which could identify you, or create any uncertainty or excuse.

- Just put a single line through all the boxes.

Write NONE across the ballot paper, so that your intention is clear beyond dispute.

It will then be indefensible to classify it as 'voter's intention uncertain'.

Multiply the number of protest votes

One third of all registered voters didn't vote last time.  There are potential protest voters everywhere around you.

Help to convince everyone to use the vote: either to Vote, or Vote NONE.  There's no reason to be silent.

Put up posters, hand out leaflets in busy places, and send tweets to engage non-voters everywhere.  Share, like and tweet the Election video.  See the red action box and Why Vote NONE?

The numbers are possible.  Look at the Real Results.  If just some of the Unheard Third vote NONE, then:

>>  in close results around the country, the media, the public and the parties will demand to know why so many more votes were rejected.

>>  to explain it, the returning officers will have to justify their certainty about that uncertainty in the voters intentions(!), so will have to identify them as protest votes.

Together we will have improved UK democracy, by estab­lishing a basic democratic way to say 'no' as well as 'yes' to the parties, policies and candidates on offer.

We will have laid the foundation for democratic protest in all future elections.  Do it!  There's no reason to be silent.

Don't be silent.   Vote for a candidate who you trust to work hard for things you believe in, or vote NONE in protest.