We Need a ‘None of the Above’ Option for Ballot Papers

None of the Above (NOTA) is a ballot option in some countries and it allows the voter to express his disapproval of all the candidates and parties listed. Those who are in favour of it argue that a truly democratic process should entitle citizens to express non-consent, as well as consent. NOTA has been adopted by the State of Nevada (under the option, None of These Candidates), Ukraine, Spain, Colombia and Bangladesh.

In the UK, it is possible to give an expression of NOTA by spoiling the ballot paper, i.e. by scrunching it up, marking more than one candidate, leaving it blank or writing something on it to that effect. In the UK spoilt ballot papers are counted (and rightly so) and some say they reflect the degree of disapproval in the country. But do they actually?

In the first place, spoilt votes don’t really make up a significant number of votes. In the 2005 General Election, there were 188,000 spoilt ballot papers. It is a fair amount, but I bet that if there was a NOTA option, far more people would choose this option. NOTA should be included because it would make the disapproval of all candidates a clearer option. It would also be an option on an equal footing with all of the other choices – instead, the NOTA option has negative connotations, since it involves ‘spoiling’ a vote.

In a true democracy the people’s views need to be accurately reflected in all local and parliamentary elections. People have become increasingly disillusioned with the state of politics today and their lack of interest is part of the reason why the electoral turnout is so low (it was 65% in the last general election). Those who chose not to vote, and I’m sure many of those who did vote, might have reconsidered their voting choice if there was a NOTA option.

Some argue that UKIP’s success in the last local government elections reflects the public’s disillusionment with politics and is nothing more than a protest vote. This could be true, in part at least. Instead of forcing people to cast a vote which is uninformed, and merely a response to a dissatisfaction with the three main political parties, they should be made aware of the option to reject all candidates. For this we need a NOTA option.

In addition, a NOTA option could encourage MPs to work harder to regain the trust and approval of their constituents. While it is unlikely that NOTA would receive a majority vote, at least if we could judge the true degree of disapproval in the country, then political parties could react in the appropriate way. I think that a NOTA option would also serve to encourage the younger generation (18-24 year olds) to voice their apathy about all of the political parties.


  1. Should you also add into the mix the numbers of voters who did not vote? If a political party cannot convince someone to go to the polling station, that is also in effect a vote for ‘None of the Above’?

    • Not going to the polling station does not necessarily mean a NOTA vote. People may not vote for many different reasons, besides disagreeing with all of the candidates. These reasons could be laziness, having other commitments, not being interested in politics, and maybe not even knowing that an election is going on!

  2. I have long advocated compulsory voting but only if there is a NOTA option on the ballot paper. I think there should be a NOTA option anyway because, as you so rightly point out, the current options are either to vote UKIP or some other minority party as a protest vote (which then artificially inflates the egos of people who are, for the most part, a bunch of cranks) or deliberately spoil your ballot. Although spoilt ballots are recorded, there is no differentiation made between someone who has made a principled decision that they want to express their dissatisfaction and someone who is simply too stupid to figure out how to correctly complete a ballot paper!

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