​#PeopleNOTpolls: ‘None of the above’ ballot option gaining traction

Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett
A campaign demanding ballots papers offer voters the option to select “none of the above” is gaining traction in the UK ahead of the country’s general election in May.

The None of The Above (NOTA) campaign has attracted almost 9,000 signatures on the online petition site 38Degrees.

Organizers claim NOTA is essential for a functioning democracy because the current system has no way of measuring people who choose to reject all candidates on the ballot.

Under current electoral rules, the only way to reject all the parties in an election is either to spoil the ballot paper or abstain from voting altogether.

NOTA campaigners say that ballot spoiling is not an effective form of dissent, because those spoiled in protest are lumped together with mistakenly voided ballots.

Refusing to vote is also fruitless, as most analysts interpret it as a sign of political apathy.

A parliamentary survey of the British public published in February found 71.8 percent of respondents support having a “none of the above” option in elections.

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In the report, examining voter engagement, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) recommended the next government consider the proposal and report back to the House of Commons by May next year.

The PCRC said: “This change would enable people to participate at elections even if they did not wish to vote for any of the candidates presented.

If large numbers of people did choose to cast their vote in this way it would serve as a wakeup call for candidates and parties that they needed to do more to gain the support of the electorate.”

Voter turnout in the 2010 general election was 65.1 percent, the third lowest since the introduction of universal suffrage.

The 2001 general election saw just 59.4 percent of the electorate take part, the lowest recorded voter turnout in British history.

The 1950 election on the other hand saw the highest voter turnout recorded, with 83.9 percent of the electorate participating.

The proportion of young people participating in British elections is especially low, with just 44.3 percent of 18 to 25 year olds voting in the 2005 general election.

This is a significant drop when compared to the 88.6 percent of young people who voted in 1964.

A 2006 study by academics at Sussex University found the decision not to vote among Britain’s youth was heavily influenced by their social class, levels of political knowledge and social capital.

NOTA campaign founder Jamie Stanley said he began working on the issue because it is a “democratic pre-requisite.”

Speaking to RT, he said: “The ability to formally withhold consent at an election [is] essential in any system claiming to be a democracy and yet [is] currently impossible in the UK.

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Stanley describes NOTA as the “ground zero of electoral reform upon which all other reform could grow.

All other reforms can be seen as desirable but not essential. It can always be argued that the current system is 'democratic enough' and 'works just fine' by those who benefit from it.

By contrast, NOTA cannot be argued against without arguing against democracy itself, once properly understood,” he added.

India currently has a NOTA option on ballot papers, but in the event of a NOTA “win” the candidate with the next largest number of votes is handed office.

Stanley rejects this model and instead suggests a re-run of the election.

Writing on 38degrees, he says: “In the UK, this would most likely occur at constituency level, triggering by-elections only. But if it were to occur nationally, then a second general election would have to follow.”

This is democracy in action.”