By David Harvey
In case you hadn’t heard, a General Election is coming. Before you switch off, thinking this may be some party political point, it isn’t, but it does offer a genuine alternative to the status quo.
Your real alternative is to vote “none of the above”. The only problem is that The Electoral Commission who “work to support a healthy democracy, where elections and referendums are based on our principles of trust, participation, and no undue influence” seem unwilling to educate the masses on all our choices. So read the following, make up your own mind, and if you feel that our electoral system is lacking in legitimacy or transparency, now is the time to do something about it.
I should start by saying that I am mostly impressed with the service I have received from The Electoral Commission. They have a well designed website and have quickly responded to several questions presented via their ‘Contact Us’ link. So, as an organisation I would give them 9/10, which most people would view as outside the need to criticise.
The problem is that the 1/10 relates to their independence to the Government. Not to one party over another, but to Government as a whole. It should be the role of The Electoral Commission to inform voters how we can use our electoral system, not to manipulate how we use the system to support the Government. That is our right, our choice to empower the Government through our choice of vote.
On the top of your ballot paper on 7th May you will be told “vote for one candidate” and in the polling station there will be guidance that tells you it would be a “mistake [if] you spoil your ballot paper”. The problem is that a report into the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections, also produced by The Electoral Commission, highlights that “ballot papers were deliberately spoilt by electors wanting to register concerns about the elections” and later indicate that they “will explore with Returning Officers how this information could be recorded at future polls” as there is currently no mechanism to distinguish between ‘deliberately spoilt’ and other rejected ballots.
Perhaps they could start by telling us we that if we have the right to vote, we have the right to spoil our ballot and vote none of the above. Even before the PCC report, there can be no doubt that this is an issue that needed addressing. In the 2010 General Election only 0.666 per cent of ballots were rejected. Then, if you compare the number of votes for the winning candidate, against the number of people who did not vote, and put these numbers into our First Past the Post election system, we would have an astonishing 438 wins for the non-voter, out of a total of 650. Obviously this isn’t quite true, but it does shows that there is a significant majority who do not take part in the system. While it would be wrong to say that all of this group did not vote because they did not want to vote for any specific party, it is also wrong to say that, nobody in this group did not vote because they did not want to vote for a specific party.
So why does it matter? Talk to any politician about polls, and they will tell you “the only thing that matters is the General Election”. That is the one where we give them a democratic mandate and the authority to take decisions on our behalf. So if all voters knew they could spoil their ballot, how many of those non-voters do you think would do so? What do you think would happen if there were more rejected votes than votes for the winning candidate? Perhaps this is the reason why The Electoral Commission don’t want to tell you all of your voting options.
However you choose to vote in this year’s General Election, if you value the ideals of democracy you should petition The Electoral Commission to at least educate voters of the choices available to them.