Not going to vote in the election? Make your abstention count

Do not-voting the right way

Who won the last general election? No, it wasn’t the Tories. It wasn’t even the coalition parties. It was nobody.

The most popular choice at the last general election was literally nobody.

More people didn’t vote than the number of people who voted for the Conservatives and Labour put together.

Here’s how it looked like it went down…

2010 general election votes

But here’s what actually happened:

2010 general election votes

Meet the non-voters

Generally, people view those who don’t go to the polls as lazy or apathetic.

But there are all sorts of reasons why someone might decide not to vote.

Don’t know enough

Anecdotally, this is the most common reason people choose not to vote. But working out who to vote for doesn’t have to be a massive task.

Unsure, or know someone who’s undecided?

Here’s a survey. It takes about 10 minutes and is reasonably fair and accurate. Do this and it will tell you which party’s policies you most closely agree with, so it’s a really good starting point. It means you can play your part in democracy. Because after all, you can hardly complain about the lack of housing or the cost of a pint if you haven’t bothered doing anything about it.

Not registered?

You can’t vote. To be honest, there’s no excuse for not registering. It takes less than 10 minutes and you can do it online. The only catch is that you need to have your National Insurance number to hand, but that’s a breeze if you know where that card is, or if you’ve got an old payslip kicking around in your bag. Do it here.

Not in the country/away

If you know you’re going to be away at the time of the election, you can register to vote by post. It’s very straightforward, but does require planning in advance of Thursday 7 May, as you have to post it so it arrives at the office 11 days before election day. The government explains how it all works on the postal voting website.

Don’t feel anyone represents me

Ah ha! So now we’ve debunked those terrible reasons for not voting, let’s talk about what to do if you legitimately don’t want to vote for anyone.

If you don’t feel represented by any of the candidates standing in your constituency, the whole thing can feel a bit pointless – like picking a name out of a hat.

This is a complaint particularly raised by young people, as few politicians actively target them.

Unfortunately, their lack of participation is often unfairly labelled as taking their vote for granted.

Russell Brand, who famously told young people not to vote, is actually right. Feeling like there is no-one to vote for is a legitimate reason not to vote and nobody should be forced to pick a candidate they don’t agree with. That’s simply not democratic.

But what to do, when you genuinely want to take part in democracy, but you can’t think of anything worse than voting for one of those drones?

Read on…

Ken dolls

To a lot of disillusioned people, this how the three main party leaders look (albeit not as comfortable in Bermuda shorts)

Spoil it for yourself

Spoilt ballot papers, the ones that are unreadable or break the rules, currently make up 0.28% of the vote.

There are many reasons why a paper might come into this category – it could be the voter hasn’t made a mark on the paper, they’ve voted for more than one candidate, or written “f*** you bourgeois w***ers” across the sheet.

The important thing is that the number of spoilt ballots are recorded and monitored. Officials keep track of how many spoilt ballots were rejected in each constituency and whether this has risen or fallen compared with the previous election.

In some countries, such as France and Spain, ballot papers offer a “none of the above” choice, where voters can register their dislike for all the candidates.

We’re not lucky enough to have this in the UK, but by spoiling a ballot paper we can make the same point.

While disaffected potential voters fail to participate and register their opposition to the political system, the change some people are desperate for will never happen.

But if the number of spoilt ballots rises significantly at this general election, people will start asking questions – the first step towards change.

Spoiling your ballot is a political right, and no matter how you do it, it’s always better than voting for someone who doesn’t deserve your vote or not turning up at all.

What do you think? Is spoiling your ballot paper a legitimate form of political expression? Or should people always vote for someone? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments below.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I agree that there is no excuse not to be prepared to vote. However Mr Brand is not right. If you really don't like all the candidates people should, as you suggest, spoil their ballot paper to make that point. Not bothering to vote is rarely from principle and mostly from apathy & disinterest.
    If Russell Brand genuinely believes the candidates available are the same perhaps he should stand for Parliament. Its not difficult; I am quite sure he can afford the deposit and attract the voter signatures needed to run. Of course the problem is that he might actually have to start addressing issues constructively rather than trotting out contradictory clichés.

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  • Great comment! Thanks Daniel

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