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Sorry to Burst Your Balloon, But Spoiling Your Ballot Isn't the Big Bad Protest You Think It Is!

24/04/2015 15:25 BST | Updated 23/06/2015 10:59 BST

Whenever a General Election campaign gets into full swing, I bet you see the same posts on social media that I do, about rebelling by spoiling the ballot paper. Well, sorry to burst anyone's balloon, but it really doesn't have the impact you think it does...

Now, don't get me wrong, I can see why people do it, and I can see why people think it works as a protest. I want to delve into the problem with answers to both of those 'why' questions.

People do it because, and this may seem obvious, they want to protest. Although there is a campaign to have a 'none of the above' option on the ballot paper, that option isn't there, so if someone doesn't feel any of the options are attractive enough, or is anti politician full stop, then there are seemingly only two options - don't vote, or spoil the ballot.

You may hold the belief that the right to vote was fought and died for, and that spoiling your ballot maintains that right, while making your protest.

Spoiling the ballot is where you put your ballot paper into the counting box, having failed to clearly mark an 'X' next to a single candidate. That's where the problem starts with it being a protest vote...

I stood as an Independent Candidate in the 2005 and 2010 elections, although I'm not standing in 2015. As a candidate, I can tell you exactly what happens to spoilt papers.

What happens is that all the candidates, or their nominated representative, stand around a big table. One of the team from the returning officer then shows *every* spoilt paper to all the candidates, so that everyone agrees it is not a vote that should be counted.

So, you get papers with 'none of the above' written on them, which is clearly a protest vote as mentioned earlier.

The trouble is, those papers are included with papers that have abuse written on them, drawings, graffiti, or, and here's the crucial thing, a cross maybe over 2 names, or a totally blank paper.

Once all the candidates agree that each one is not a vote that should be counted, they all get lumped together. Mistakes and protests together. No differentiation.

So, a spoilt ballot paper is effectively just another non vote. That's how the candidates view them. The candidates are not interested in non votes, they are interested in how the *actual* votes went.

Let me give you an example to illustrate...

In this example, the constituency has 30 people eligible to vote.

Only 20 people actually register.

Only 15 actually vote.

Those 15 votes are broken down as follows -

Party A - 4 votes

Party B - 3 votes

Party C - 3 votes

Party D - 2 votes

Independent Candidate - 1 vote

Spoilt Papers - 2

Obviously that's a crude example, but it makes the point that although the spoilt papers are recorded, as a non vote they are far outweighed by the registered voters that didn't vote, in fact there were enough non voters to win the seat!

So out of the original 30 that were eligible to vote, the candidates are interested in how the 13 actual votes went, not the other 17.

If we look at why people think they might spoil their ballot, I hear the same reasons over and over; 'they're all cheats and liars,' 'my vote makes no difference,' 'I don't even know who is standing,' and so on. I wonder how many people will write 'Russell Brand for PM' on their paper...

I suggest, and this is something I suggest the same as a non candidate as when I was a candidate, that you go and find out who is standing! I suggest that you stop using generalisations about the candidates, the vast majority of whom are fine upstanding people looking to make the country better.

Could it be that when you make the effort to research, you find that a party *does* appeal? Could it be that there's an Independent Candidate who offers you a platform of pure democracy, who has an offer that would excite and engage you, if only you could be bothered to actually look?

I suggest you don't dismiss it all because you think it's cool, or because you're just too lazy to make the effort, or maybe because your parents have never voted.

If, after all that, you think that spoiling your ballot makes you a big rebel that will teach the politicians? Sorry, it just doesn't work like that.

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