Spoilt Vote != Wasted Vote

A spoilt vote does not automatically translate to a wasted vote. Nor is a spoilt vote equivalent to not voting at all.

Another important note to make early on is that I’m not writing this to encourage anyone to spoil the vote – but I would hope you would come out of reading this feeling encouraged to vote, in whatever form.

This morning sees the opening of UK Elections for the European Parliament. As has been increasingly predictable, much fuss has been made of the “threat” parties such as UKIP pose to the established mainstream parties (namely Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats).
The resulting social and conventional media storm has been somewhat hectic and infuriating. Understandable obsession that people may feel dejected with mainstream politics and forced into voting for one of the more extreme options; frustration at the apparent disproportionate airtime Farage and UKIP have been given; simultaneous over-reaching to shout racist and disregard anyone who would vote UKIP as being dated, past it, out-of-touch, wrong – yet still being scared of them winning a large portion of the votes.

I didn’t start writing this to debate the merits (or lack of) in UKIPs campaign, nor the fact they seem to lack any depth or breadth of policies (and they’re not alone in that, by the way), but I needed to mention it because one thing that crops up regularly is a comment along the lines of “worse thing to do is not vote, or spoilt ballot” or “there’s always something to vote against”. Presumably, you can already tell I disagree with this sentiment, at least the latter part of it.
I would be the first to agree that not voting is a terrible option, and doesn’t actually bring anything to the table, but why then do I believe a spoilt vote is any more valid an option?

The reasoning is actually pretty simple, aided by the way UK voting works:

  • If you don’t vote, the elected individuals can, with some justification, attempt to disregard your opinion in society as invalid – it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between apathy and indifference, or disillusion with the options available / protest no-votes. Simply put, if you don’t vote you’re not someone they can “win” a vote from, so they have no reason to bother trying.
  • In the UK, spoilt votes have to be counted and, often, announced. Just think about that for a second. That means that, along with every vote for a certain party, every spoilt ballot is also recorded. A spoilt ballot is as close to a “true” protest vote as we get.
  • Where spoilt ballots are in the tens or low hundreds, it can be easily put down to voter error. Where the numbers are higher it demonstrates genuine dissatisfaction with what the parties available offer.
  • In the previous Euro elections, UK turnout was just under 35% (15.1 Million) of the eligible population. In the last general election it was just over 65% (29.7 Million). It would be lazy of me to assume everyone who doesn’t vote cares enough to actually spoilt their vote, but it’s fair to assume that a reasonable percentage of those who choose not to vote do so through disillusion, frustration, and a feeling that their vote is irrelevant as it won’t change anything. To those people, I would urge you to consider spoiling your vote (as opposed to not voting at all).
  • Let’s take the last Euro Election:
    • Roughly speaking, 28.04 million eligible voters did not vote at all in the UK elections. 15.99 million didn’t in the General Election a year later. If we assume the everyone who didn’t vote in the last General Election won’t vote in any, that leaves us with 12.05 million no-votes to work with.
    • Presumably, if those 12.05 million, at lease some chose not to vote because they “didn’t see the point” or “didn’t think it would make a difference”. I’m no statistician, so I’m pulling numbers from the air here when I suggest that, maybe, 5% of those non-voters wanted to vote but didn’t think there was anyone to vote for. (Note: This is different to those who chose not to vote as a misguided EU protest / frustration with their “usual” part / etc.). That’s over 600,000 potential spoilt ballots – more votes than the SNP, who won 2 seats.
    • Even at that low (in my opinion) estimate of potential spoilt ballots, that is a huge figure, and registers that disillusion / frustration / anger officially.
  • It may not change the election outcome, but it does send a clear message that there is a considerable body of people out there in your electorate who are disillusioned with the political options they’re presented with- and care enough to actually go out to vote on election day and register that frustration.

Ultimately, I don’t care how someone chooses to vote come the day, come the hour. But I would urge you all to vote if you’re eligible. Without it, there is virtually no reason for your government to care about your opinion.

And, please, don’t be so quick to disregard those who choose to spoil their vote.