What is a Spoilt Vote?

In democratic elections, a ballot or a vote is deemed to be spoilt, spoiled, null, void or invalid if a law decrees or an election authority determines that the ballot is not valid and therefore not included in the vote count. Spoilt votes can be deliberate or accidental. The total number of spoilt votes in a United States of America election is known as the residual vote. 

There are jurisdictions that count the number of spoilt votes and in the UK, they can total in excess of 100,000 votes. 

In UK elections all votes are counted, recorded and announced for each constituency. These votes even include ballot papers where the voter does not even select a registered candidate.

Protest votes are only reported by the media and in official declarations when the number of spoilt ballots is substantial and represents a material number of people. 

The UK’s 2015 General Election resulted in just under 100,000 rejected or spoilt votes. There were 97,870 spoilt votes to be precise. This number is the equivalent of 3 or 4 seats in parliament and this number could represent 3 or 4 Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament in the UK are typically elected to represent their constituency with a total of 18,000 to 28,000 votes.

The total of spoilt votes represents under 1% of the total electorate. However, 34% of people who were registered to vote simply decided not to turn out and vote. This represents just under 16 million people. 

If even a small proportion of these people find something to believe in and turn out and vote they could turn election results on their head.

However, if enough of this proportion of the population choose to Vote NONE on their ballot, the protest vote can be established. The protest vote can then represent a protest for change and those represented by the protest vote could finally have some influence over the country they are inhabiting. The protest vote can then become integral to UK politics.

Why Vote NONE? 

To make a protest vote clear and indisputable, it is important to write NONE on the ballot. Just spoiling the ballot may not result in the vote being attributed to a spoilt vote or categorised within the ‘NONE’ category.

Currently, there are extremely few choices on the ballot paper. Overwhelmingly represented by career politicians from parties that are all owned and controlled by the same forces. Your vote will not make any tangible difference because all options offered on the ballot paper will ultimately serve the same agenda.

By voting NONE and these votes being counted and recorded in each consistency, the need for change will become more apparent and the power of the protest vote will grow.

Your spoilt vote will be rejected as a vote for a standing candidate in your respective constituency. To be a distinct and visible protest vote, it needs to be classified as a protest vote. If the number of rejected ballots grow significantly, this will highlight to contempt that is held for all aspects of modern government. 

The classification of the vote you cast is extraordinarily important as the protest needs to be recognised and heard as a protest and cannot be dismissed as a voter error or a spoilt ballot.

The Electoral Commission has published guidance that requires rejected votes to be counted and classified under the following reasons for rejection.

  • Voting for more than one candidate
  • Absence of an official mark, e.g. a polling station stamp
  • Writing or a mark that could identify the voter
  • Unmarked Ballot
  • Void for uncertainty 

Elections are ultimately about selecting candidates and a protest vote cannot be rejected as a vote for a candidate standing for election. However, conflating spoilt ballots and protest votes is a classification that is used to silence UK democratic protest.

Protests should be counted separately like when MPs abstain from voting on matters of parliament. It is indefensible to not recognise that they are political alternatives beyond the mainstream parties. If enough of the population vote NONE, it will become indefensible in practice.

The voter’s intent is crucial for this to work and classifying protest votes as such is the only way to ensure that there are a meaningful number of votes classified as protest votes.

Clarity on Protest Votes

To implement your right to say ‘no’ in a UK election, the protest vote you cast must be clear and the number of protest votes must increase significantly.

Ensuring that your protest vote is clear is crucial.

  • Do NOT place a cross or a tick anywhere on the ballot
  • Don’t write any information that could identify you or create any uncertainty about your vote
  • Just put a single line through all of the boxes on the ballot
  • Write NONE across the ballot paper, this illustrates your clear intention and is beyond dispute
  • This means that it will then be indefensible to classify it as ‘voter’s intention uncertain’.

A third of registered voters did not choose to vote in 2015 and if a substantially number of these people combined with more people who are now apathetic towards the political system choose to place a protest vote, it could be the start of a political movement truly ignited for and by the people.