In the leafy suburb of Headingley in North West Leeds stands a candidate like few others. Mark Flanagan is standing for the Above and Beyond Party, whose main aim is to give voters the option to reject all the candidates by offering them a none of the above vote.
Mark is not the first candidate to stand as a none of the above option, other similar parties and campaign groups have long been fighting for the cause. The NOTA (None Of The Above) party campaign for what they call NOTA with teeth, meaning that if NOTA gained a majority in a constituency then another election would be held, until the parties and candidates, or the voters changed.
It may seem counter intuitive but there is currently no way to vote and reject all the candidates in an election. VoteOrVoteNone argues that elections in the UK are effectively referendums in which the only options are shades of ‘yes’ and that without none of the above there is no way to vote ‘no’. Ballots spoiled in protest and ballots that are unclear, or filled in incorrectly are all classed as rejected ballots, though none of the reasons for rejection include a rejection of all the candidates.
This highlights a key issue with our democratic process. Elections are ultimately about consent and legitimacy, any democratic government requires at least the consent of the people to govern. Consent can only be established If voters have to option to withhold that consent or at very least protest their objection.
In 2010, 65% of those eligible and registered to vote actually voted, the rest although registered never ended up voting. Is it any surprise we have large numbers of people disenfranchised from politics and almost one third of people not voting at the last general election, when people cannot express themselves through the ballot? According to the BBC, two thirds of the seats on offer on May the 7th can be classed as safe seats, expected to have a majority of 10% or higher and therefore highly unlikely to change hands. For many people in these seats, their vote is worthless and will count towards nothing, disenfranchised many of these voters simply don’t vote. The addition of NOTA to the ballot, would give the millions living in safe seats a means to protest candidates and our political class, without endorsing sometimes unsavoury ‘protest’ parties.
A total of 194 seats, one third of those available, are marginal (within a 5% voter swing to change hands) nearly all of these seats are a two way fight between parties. This leads to a situation where voters who support neither party are encouraged to vote tactically in order to prevent a candidate they dislike from winning. Though it is worth noting that no politician has ever taken a vote for them as anything less than an endorsement of themselves.
India, the world’s largest democracy allows voters the option of none of the above, though its mostly symbolic. Spain, offers the ability to cast a blank vote, a way for voters to show disapproval of candidates. None of the above, or striking out candidates also played its part in the collapse of communism throughout eastern europe, voters were able to show their disdain for communist candidates, usually the only candidate to be allowed to stand, by voting to reject all candidates.
The addition of none of the above to the ballot paper is a minor change that could help to ease the growing disaffection with our democratic process. Voters would be able to clearly voice their opinion through the ballot, if enough voters opted for none of the above another election could be held in which parties and politicians could address the issues raised