Making Protest Votes Count

Read this before you 'spoil the ballot' or don't vote.

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.  But...

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

In the 2015 General Election, the UK total of 'rejected' or 'spoilt' votes was almost 100k.  (97,870 to be exact.) That is a huge number.  It's equivalent to the votes for 3 or 4 MPs, given that most MPs are elected on 18k to 28k votes.

But across the country, it represents less than 1% of votes.  So it was not news.  Meanwhile, 34% of registered voters (nearly 16 million!) just didn't vote.

Goal:  If just some of those non-voters will 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.  It can establish the protest vote as part of UK politics.  Why 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.

We can all accept that 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
1. your protest vote must be clear, and
2. the number of protest votes must multiply. 

1. 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'.

2. 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 their 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 and like these pages.  See the red action box and Why Vote?

The numbers are possible.  Look at the Real Results every time for the UK and your own constituency.  For exampe:

Example results from the 2010 UK General Election

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.

Protest votes will count if people vote NONE clearly, in numbers that are newsworthy.

So use your vote.

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