Saturday, 23 June 2012

Power to the People

I heard recently that moderate Egyptians were rather put out when the Presidential run-off was held between two quite immoderate candidates. In the first round of voting, the moderate vote had been split between a number of moderate candidates allowing the more extreme candidates to get through. The moderate voice was silenced by the very democratic process it sought to foster.

One of the problems with choosing between candidates using a voting system is that of what to do when you like none of the candidates. You have to vote for one or other of the candidates or not at all. In some places, voting is compulsory which only adds to one's problems. So far as I am aware, there is no third way advocated.

The typical view is that either one's vote counts (in that it is used to vote for one of the candidates) or it is wasted. There are currently two ways of wasting a vote: by spoiling one's ballot paper or by not voting. The latter is certainly a waste: one does not turn up; one does not use the opportunity to vote at all. A spoilt ballot paper is considered to be wasted but it is not wasted in the same way. One does turn up; one does make one's voice heard - or perhaps that should be 'make one's presence felt' - although in a quite different way. A spoilt ballot should not be seen as a wasted vote but as a form of democratic expression.

In countries, such as the UK, where electoral turnouts are very low, the spoilt ballot option should, I believe, be used to register discontent with the options available. If one feels disenfranchised due to the poor choice of candidates - or the political classes in general - one should make one's feelings felt. Spoiling one's ballot paper is such a way. It shows that one has bothered to turn up and made a choice: to deliberately not vote for any of the candidates.

In its logical extension, the spoilt ballot could even be used to determine whether an election should be considered to be ratifiable. With a low turn-out, the candidate with the most votes currently wins but this may be a hollow victory. Above a certain percentage of spoilt votes, an election might be considered to be null and void and a re-run necessary.

(I do not pretend to have solved any of the problems inherent in the democratic process - there are sure to be counter arguments. However, these are my musings as ever.)