When you go to http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/, you will see their tag line “The independent elections watchdog and regulator of party and election finance”.

Having seen many websites, I really like this one. It is easy to navigate and most people, no matter what their agenda, would be able to find what they are looking for following an intuitive click or two. And if you cant find what you want, “contact us” is as clear as day, at the top of the page. What is even more surprising is that when I have contacted them, I have usually had a reply in less than two working days. So I do have a lot of respect for them, as an organisation that is promoting democracy within this country.

In fact, I would give them 99/100. So if they score 99/100, what is the need for change? Its a little bit like being given a house, but not having the key to the door. Sure you can get in through a window, and once inside do all the things you would normally do, but that 1/100 is important.

For me, that 1/100, 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 use or electoral system, not to manipulate how we use the system, to support the Government. That is our right to prop up the Government through our choice of how we vote.

There are several different voting systems in use within The Electoral Commissions mandate in the UK, but this is just focusing on the General Election which takes place May 7th. At the top of your ballot paper you will be told “vote for one candidate only“, and this guide can be found in the electoral administrators guide on Verifying and Counting the Votes. In section 1.1 of this guide it says:

The count produces an accurate result, where the total number of votes cast for each candidate and rejected votes matches the total number of ballot papers given on the verification statement for the constituency

The key phrase here is “votes cast for each candidate AND REJECTED VOTES matches the total number”. This is important because rejected votes are counted.

If you want to take part in the voting system, but want to chose NO OF THE ABOVE, you can reject them all with a ‘rejected vote’.

Ok, so perhaps if you are reading this you have an interest in politics and you may know that you can spoil your ballot paper, but that is not clear to the masses. As mentioned above, you are advised to “vote for one candidate only”, “none of the above” is not a choice. On top of that there is a handy guide How to vote at this election, as well as repeating the mantra “vote for one candidate only”, this is followed with, “or your vote may not be counted”. Yet more confusion is added, to all but the biggest election nerds, by the implication that it would be a “mistake [to] spoil a ballot paper”.

I have to admit that I too was confused as to the difference between a ‘spoilt ballot’ and ‘rejected ballot’ until it was graciously cleared up, after I questioned their impartiality over guidance to voters.

Your enquiry regarding spoilt and rejected ballot papers has been forwarded onto me.

In order to answer your query I feel it necessary to indicate the difference between a spoilt ballot paper and a rejected ballot paper.

A spoilt ballot paper is one which the elector presents to the Presiding Officer at the polling station and indicates that they have made a mistake. For example they have changed their mind as to who they wish to vote for but have already marked the ballot paper. If they present this to the Presiding Officer before they place the ballot paper in the ballot box then the Presiding Officer can issue them with a replacement ballot paper. They then cast their vote on the replacement ballot paper and it is placed in the ballot box to then go onto the Count. The spoilt ballot paper is taken by the Presiding Officer who writes the word “spoilt” across it and places it in a separate envelope. At no point does this spoilt ballot paper get placed in the ballot box.

The reason a spoilt ballot paper is not taken forward to the Count is because the elector has already been issued with a replacement. If their spoilt ballot paper was placed in the ballot box as well and taken forward to the Count then that elector would effectively have had 2 votes which of course is not allowed.

A rejected ballot paper is one which has been placed in the ballot box and arrives at the Count. Only once it arrives at the Count and the Count has begun, is it deemed to be rejected.

I hope this helps. If you require any further information then please contact me again.

Kind regards

As someone who likes to know what is what, I was of course, happy to be enlightened. However I was not satisfied that this information was widely understood within polling stations and staff, so wanted to know how this was managed. In response to this I was sent links to the Polling Station Handbook as well as some Guidance to Candidates and Agents, but neither of these give a clear distinction between a ‘spoilt’ or ‘rejected’ ballot.

Some further research, into the substantial volume of information that The Electoral Commission  has produced, led to the discovery of a report on the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections.  Paragraph 1.23 “suggests that a significant proportion of rejected ballot papers were deliberately spoiled by electors wanting to register their concerns about the elections, although it has not been possible to quantify…”. This inability to quantify is explained in paragraph 3.86 “it is not possible to quantify the total number of ballot papers that were deliberately spoilt due to the categories used for recording the reason for rejection. LROs [Local Returning Officers] have no power to reject a ballot paper under a separate category, such as ‘deliberately spoilt’. We will explore with ROs whether and how this information could be recorded at future polls.”

So The Electoral Commission are clearly aware that people are using the option of spoiling a ballot paper as a means of showing their contempt for the system, while maintaining the principals and values of a free vote. However,currently, at least not as far as I can see, they have no desire to educate the voter about all their voting options. It should be clear to The Electoral Commission that many people are not be aware of their option to spoil their ballot, as only 0.666% of ballots were rejected at the 2010 General Election. When 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.

To paraphrase the final statement on all their publications, if you want to “support healthy democracy based on principals of trust, participation and no undue influence, so that you can put voters first” will you:

  • Change your guide to voting for the 2015 general election – make it clear that spoiling your ballot to create a rejected vote is a legitimate and valid option.
  • Publish your findings on how to give Returning Officers the power to distinguish between intentionally spoilt ballots and other rejected ballots.