VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s a way to officially vote ‘none of the above,’ and a political watchdog calls it essential to democracy, but voters not allowed to do it in British Columbia.
Declining — also known as rejecting or refusing — your ballot is when a voter goes to the polls, receives their ballot and immediately return it blank while declaring their intention to reject it. The vote is recorded separately from spoiled ballots.
“It gives voters the opportunity to go the polls and express their desire that they don’t support any of the candidates as opposed to just staying at home or spoiling their ballot, ” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher says. “When you spoil your ballot people can’t tell whether you just didn’t know how to mark an X or whether you had some reason.”
The process is allowed in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario provincial elections, and is not an option for federal elections. Ontario’s 2014 election saw more than 31,000, or 0.64 per cent of, voters decline their ballot, a 1,345 per cent increase over the previous election and the highest since 1975.
The spike was attributed to an increase in public awareness campaigns.
Elections BC says there is no way for a voter to formally declare they wish to decline their ballot in provincial elections and was unsure if such a process has ever existed.
Several other countries have variations of none of the above, rejected or blank options including Belgium, Greece, France, India, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and United Kingdom. Parties have also registered under various none of the above names and some individual candidates have even gone as far as to change their names to appear as None of the Above on the ballot.
While declined ballots will not impact whether a winner is chosen, Conacher says if a large enough percentage of voters choose none of the above, it could seriously undermine the legitimacy of the next government.
“Politicians don’t like it because it allows people to come out and express their concern. It shows that they don’t support any of the candidates or parties,” he says.
In a time when voter apathy continues to rise, the option could also help boost turn out by giving people a real venue to vent their frustrations, according to Conacher.
He believes going further and putting a none of the above option on the ballot, along with a line to explain why a voter chose that option, would give politicians a clear indication of what people are angry about.
“If a significant percentage of people went and rejected their ballot then the parties would try and figure out why those people did so, because they would want to attract those voters,” he says.
Conacher says he has yet to see any parties who have promised to introduce the option and Democracy Watch expects to release a report card on democratic reform in the major parties’ platforms within the last week of the campaign.