Affirmed None of the Above Options

The Liberal Democrats and others endorse Proportional Representation as a panacea to the problems inherent with First-Past-The-Post. FPTP is designed to discourage electoral participation, whether due to the spoiler effect of voting for minor parties, the adoption by major parties of fringe policies simply to win votes, smear campaigning supplanting positive campaign promises, or the disconnect between vote and seat shares. Is it any wonder that at the last five general elections, more than thirty per cent of eligible voters abstained from voting, not wanting to make unsavoury compromises or believing that their votes did not matter?

Our current electoral reform platform of adopting PR, and improving ballot access and voter participation, may not go far enough to repair the damage done by FPTP to public trust in politics, already materialising as depressed electoral turnout. The endorsement of any additional precedented reform measures, such as compulsory voting or holding Election Day at the weekend or on a bank holiday, would fail to take this into account.

The current means of expressing political dissatisfaction are ineffective. Abstentionism not only excludes voters from the electoral process, but leads to any practitioners being branded as apathetic, lazy or stupid, even if they were understandably dissuaded by the arcane electoral system, negative campaigning, or the unpopular reputation of politicians generally. And spoilt votes, whether as write-in candidates, essays or crudely-drawn genitals, are recorded as a homogenous mass by counting officers, likely to be ignored by candidates and parties as conveying no greater meaning other than vague discontentment.

We would agree that the right to vote to be denied due to support for any party other than the one in power would be wrong. Therefore, should voters be barred from electoral participation because they do not or cannot support any of the candidates or parties? I believe that there might be a possibly hitherto unconsidered reform measure that would embrace this neglected group, making our party unique if we were to adopt it: Affirmed None of the Above.

ANOTA could be thought of as ‘None of the Above Plus’. Conventional None of the Above involves a catch-all option to not vote for any candidates, its potential consequences ranging from nothing at all to a required do-over election. With ANOTA, however, voters would be able to choose any one of a number of reasons, independently refined by the Electoral Commission, for why they would not wish to vote for any candidates, listed on ballot papers alongside but separate from the list of said candidates. Although greater priority should be given to counting votes for candidates, ANOTA votes may be used by candidates and parties as data points for how to better appeal to this subset of the electorate. A breakdown of results for ANOTA should be made public knowledge as with other election results.

I believe that there may be several benefits to the adoption of ANOTA for elections in the UK. Firstly, the inclusion of the politically disillusioned in the voting process would nevertheless increase turnout, giving greater legitimacy to our elections.

Secondly, ANOTA, in tandem with other reforms, would make voting for candidates a more positive experience than it currently is under FPTP, nineteen per cent of voters in 2019 having voted tactically, nearly half of them doing so ‘to try and stop a party whose views I oppose, or who I think will do a bad job’.

And thirdly, to ‘make politics boring again’ after years of polarisation, elections should be less a confrontational game as under FPTP, and more like a comprehensive survey, allowing voters to respond negatively as well as positively in order to deliver more representative results.

In comparison to other measures, namely the adoption of PR, it could not be reasonably argued that ANOTA would be advocated just for partisan advantage to our party, mainly because the section of the electorate that this would aim to empower would not vote for any party.

What do you think?

* Samuel James Jackson has been a grassroots member of the Liberal Democrats, affiliated with the Calderdale branch, since 2017, and is currently studying at the University of Leeds for a Master’s degree in History.

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  • Tristan Ward 23rd Aug '21 - 6:29pm

    I am afraid this is a Boaty McBoatface option.

  • Brad Barrows 23rd Aug '21 - 6:34pm

    Yes, Nevada has had this option at elections for over 40 years. Should that option ‘win’, no candidate is elected and a by-election is necessary. A good option to allow those who wish to vote but don’t like the candidate chosen by their party to express their disapproval.

  • David Le Grice 23rd Aug '21 - 7:27pm

    I say we let Ron run.

  • john oundle 23rd Aug '21 - 7:33pm

    If voters are interested / inspired to vote they will turn out as seen in 1992 & 2016..

  • James Fowler 23rd Aug '21 - 7:52pm

    Not sure about the tie between FPTP and voter dissatisfaction is as clear as you make it (elections in the 1950s had 80percent turnouts) but I’d like to see ANOTA/RON on the ballot paper nonetheless.

  • Ahh Samuel! You would take all the fun out of not voting or voiding the slip! On those rare occassions when I haven’t voted, mainly because there were far more exciting things going on in my life, it was a deliberate choice, not disenfranchisement. I wanted people like you and the candidates to be concerned about low turn out. I wanted them to be concerned, I wanted them to be bothered enough to come and find me and ask me why I found them so unworthey of my vote. They always stared fiercely into the camera and committed themselves to go on a journey to find the people who didn’t vote and listen to the reasons why, of course, with one or two exceptions, most write off thirty perrcent as never voting and never give them any more thought.
    I would never go for this ANOTA, non voters are not there to give you easy answers you have to earn their vote.
    I hope they stay their course and find their own way, I hope at least some always retain their vote and put a shudder in the winning candidates universe, it’s far more fun like that…..who wants politics to be boring????

  • William Francis 24th Aug '21 - 11:05am

    I think you overestimate the impact that a “none of the above” option would have on political participation, but never-the-less it is a good policy. Especially, if as Brad Barrows suggested, we use it in the same way as Nevada does.

  • Samuel James Jackson 24th Aug '21 - 11:43am

    Personally, I was in two minds when I wrote this.

    I do believe that ANOTA should act as a RON option, as described by Brad Barrows, if it were to be introduced whilst FPTP is still in use.

    However, if it were to be introduced following the adoption of STV, I thought it would be more of a scratch vote because of the mechanics of transferable voting.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Aug '21 - 2:26pm

    Voting is about preferences however limited the choices are. You can only decide on what is in front of you. ANOTA will achieve nothing especially if voting is easier. Preferential voting without ANOTA allows the voter to make maximum use of the choices in front of them.

  • John Marriott 24th Aug '21 - 5:26pm

    “ANOTA should act as a RON option” would that have anything to do with “Do Do Ron Ron”?

    By the way, don’t the Aussies have a ‘none of the above’ option?

  • It would make a little more sense in a country where voting is mandatory, personally I’d still spoil the ballet, it has a more visceral, satisfying feeling than ticking non of the above.

  • Peter Davies 25th Aug '21 - 7:31am

    @Samuel James Jackson. If RON was added as a non-transferable candidate under STV, It might result in three people elected in a five member seat and a bye-election for the remaining two. That would probably really annoy RON’s supporters who would have to express their apathy twice. The bye-election would also be less proportional. You could, I suppose, introduce ANOTA as an instantly transferable preference. It would mark the point at which you switched from ‘most liked’ to ‘least disliked’ but would go straight to the next on the list.

  • John Shoesmith 25th Aug '21 - 9:57am

    Libdems love to discuss alternative voting systems, but our views are totally irrelevant. The Tories hold power based on well under half the voters. They decide the voting system, and since they aren’t stupid they aren’t likely to change it except to make it even easier for themselves to win.

    If we want to be relevant we first have to be on the winning side in a General Election. Winning involves beating the Tories, which means talking to the other opposition parties and maybe arranging a Green/Libdem/Labour primary before the election in each constituency.

    It wouldn’t be easy, but given the fact the Johnson seems intent on erecting every sort of barrier and inconvenience between ourselves and our neighbours, and that there is a climate emergency and Johnson’s nationalists aren’t going to fix it, we have a duty to stop dreaming and make a serious attempt at power.

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