Spoilt votes count too

The general elections seem imminent and the stakes are high for Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat in a contest touted as the “mother of all elections”.

Almost every other issue is now an election issue and social media is abuzz with people making a case for why their friends and followers should vote for one party and not another — despite the fact that the names of election candidates have not been announced. Some are not so blatant when making their stand, offering only the advice to “vote wisely”. Sure.

And what if in all your wisdom you realise that none of the candidates contesting in your constituency represent your ideals? Worse still, if they and their political parties take a contrary position on the issues most important to you?

“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” or “Choose the lesser of two evils”. We have heard these too many times in conversations about politics. But are these really our only options? No, you can choose to spoil your vote.

Many young friends say they are not aware of this option. Some thought spoilt votes were merely a technicality where people mistakenly spoilt their ballots when in fact they had meant to vote for a particular candidate. This is true in some cases.

Others have been outraged that casting a spoilt vote was even brought up as a topic of conversation, and one has been accused of being “irresponsible”. After all, you are only given the opportunity to vote once every five years or so and it is your civic duty to mark that ballot. The latter is true.

However, no one should feel compelled to vote for any “devil” or “lesser evils”. In France, Spain, Colombia and the Ukraine for example, voters have the option to vote ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) either on the ballot or by casting a blank vote.

This option is based on the principle that all legitimate consent requires that individuals also have the ability to withhold their consent. In other words, if your conscience does not allow you to vote for any of the candidates, you don’t have to. In fact it lets you go a step further to put on record that none of the candidates appeal to you.

The inclusion of NOTA on our election ballots did not make it onto the list of demands by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih). But Malaysians can still vote ‘none of the above’ by simply spoiling their ballots.

It is completely legal to do so and it does not make one’s vote any less legitimate. You are still performing your civic duty by participating in the electoral process, and you are voting according to your conscience.

There will be those who will say the act of deliberately spoiling a ballot is “as irresponsible” as not registering and showing up on polling day. This is not true.

So why show up at all? Well, there are at least two reasons to show up on polling day despite the spoilt vote.

The first is the sad state of our electoral roll. When the deceased are still registered as valid voters and individuals are registered in multiple constituencies there is plenty of room for abuse. Show up on polling day to ensure no one else is voting in your name.

The second is to make a statement. The same way others are voting to express support for a candidate, a person who spoils the ballot is making a statement that she/he does not support any of the candidates. Every vote counts.

Published in Malay Mail

Comments 2

  1. Yes, I agree that all votes count. Have you thought what would happen if the amount of spoilt votes are quite significant. How will it impact on the matter of legitimacy of the candidates and the state?

    1. Post

      Hi G Camper. Yes, I have thought about it. Referring to your question of “legitimacy”, it’s quite similar to if there were low turnout. Although in the case of a low turnout, the votes of those who did show up will count and those votes will determine which candidate wins.

      The difference between spoiling votes v. not voting at all is that a spoilt ballot is indeed counted and recorded at the polling station. The voter is present and puts on record her/his rejection of all candidates on the ballot.

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