Monday, 26 April 2010

What’s a bear to do? Spoil the ballot?

The other day I was chatting to a friend. He volunteered the information, without me mentioning the subject, that he probably wouldn’t vote in the General Election. This is not because he is apolitical or apathetic. (He’s actually very political, and has stood for the local council as an independent candidate in the last two elections. He didn’t get in, but he got a respectable number of votes.) It’s just that he has no confidence in any of the major parties.

So what will I do on election day? That’s not easy. The temptation to vote tactically has been removed by the fact that I live in a safe seat. For all practical purposes, my vote will make no difference, because everyone knows who’s going to win. I can vote according to my conscience.

But this doesn’t help much. If there was a Libertarian candidate, or a libertarianish independent, in my constituency - that’s who I’d vote for. But there aren’t many libertarian candidates, and none around my neighbourhood. If there were a UKIP candidate in my constituency, I’d settle for that. But there are over 100 constituencies that UKIP isn’t fighting, and I live in one of them. I might even be prepared to vote for a Hannanite Tory, but our local Conservative candidate does not impress me. What do I do?

The obvious answer is to spoil my ballot. I’ve done it before several times. My wife plans to do so. But I’ve decided that I don’t want to. A spoiled ballot does not communicate anything at all. Have a look at historical election statistics on the internet. You can find out what how many votes each candidate got; you can find out what the turnout was, but you won’t find the number of spoiled ballots. The number of spoiled ballots is a statistic that nobody is interested in - which means that spoiling one’s ballot is pointless. And in my case, people would just assume that I spoiled it because bears aren’t very good with pens, and I just wasn’t able to make the mark I intended to make.

So I have come up with an answer which I think might be a little better. If no candidate is much good, one should vote for the least dangerous person on the ballot paper*. Many constituencies have one or more fringe candidates - independents, supporters of local hospitals, Official Monster Raving Loonies. And fortunately, mine does. I may not agree with him about much, but if he were elected, he would not be part of the government in the event of a hung parliament. It’s a protest vote, pure and simple. Not great, but I think it’s a better option than spoiling my ballot or staying at home.

*Hat tip to Tom Paine at the Last Ditch for that one. And, at the risk of grossly over-simplifying, doing the least damage means not voting in favour of passing more laws (and, of course, voting in favour of repealing ones that we already have.)


patently said...

I seem to recall that spoiled ballots are shown to the candidates at the count, the idea being that they could then personally confirm that the paper did not have a valid vote on it. I can't give a reference for that, though.

If so, that would give a spoiled ballot a very significant point - it would give you a small but definite way to express your disappointment in the candidates to them directly!

Young Mr. Brown said...

I was a candidate for local council many years ago. So many years ago that my memory is fuzzy. (Even fuzzy wuzzy. A problem we bears have.)

As far as I remember, they only show spoiled ballots to candidates where there is some question over the intention of the voter, in order to confirm that all candidates agree with the decision of the returning officer in each case.

With more certainty, I can tell you that candidates don't give much thought to the spoiled ballots they look at!

patently said...

Ah well. Thanks for the correction!