None-of-the-above: innovations in democracy

by George Hatjoullis

Democracy is a much abused word. It is bandied about as if it is a well-defined unambiguous concept that is easy to grasp and even easier to implement. This is simply not so. It is an idea that is forever slipping from the grasp. Just as you think you have got it the idea changes ever so slightly leaving you not quite content with what you have left. There is plenty of scope for innovation in democracy yet there is very little effort to achieve it and even less progress. The world needs an iDemocracy.

Russell Brand has recently stirred the debate with a call not to vote. This is not a new idea. The usual response is that people died for universal suffrage and to suggest not using the vote is an insult to their memory and efforts. Apathy certainly is an insult. However, an active non-voting strategy might honour their memory and bring us closer to their goals.

The problem is choosing for whom to vote. An active and thoughtful voter might reasonably find that no party fully reflects his or her views. This voter might also become aware of the self-serving lust for power that drives politicians and warps their behaviour as politicians. Our very much engaged voter is not necessarily apathetic or lethargic but rather frustrated at the lack of real choice and with a political elite that she/he neither trusts nor views as competent. Not voting in this context is understandable and anything but apathetic. It is a positive statement of dissatisfaction with the system and the ruling elite. It will, however, be represented by the elite as apathy and ignored.

Many have responded by making protest votes. We vote for a minority and somewhat extreme party which we do not expect to be elected (and would be horrified if it was). It is a protest! However, the minority party will be encouraged by this and draw strength from the vote. It will not interpret it as a protest vote but as a statement of support. It might even encourage a few voters with latent extremist views to support such parties. The protest vote does not necessarily communicate to the ‘political system’ about what we are actually concerned. It is barely better than not voting at all and in some respects more dangerous.

A line at the bottom of the ballot box which says ‘none of the above’ might be more useful. It could even be accompanied with a legal obligation to vote (not a big ask given postal votes). The perceived apathy of non-voters is thus converted into a positive energy. It says to all parties and politicians that the voter is not satisfied with the Smörgåsbord on offer and that the political elite should not charge off thinking they have a mandate to do anything. Indeed it might be linked with a minimum total of votes cast for actual parties. If none-of-the-above wins then the election is void. The existing government remains but has no mandate. Perhaps then someone will ask why the electorate is so unsupportive. Not voting for a party in this context is a very strong statement.

Turns out the none-of-the-above electorate are 40%.