In the Obama for '08 thread, I responded to a post of Thomas's about the hypothetical attractiveness of a system where a "none of the above" option is given real teeth. My post goes into quite some detail about the use of the "against all" option in Russian elections, so a thread about Obama's potential candidacy for the US presidency is hardly the likeliest place for it ... So I thought I'd put it in a thread of its own, for those who love political trivia ;-).
If "none of the above" wins a seat, you just leave it empty. The otherwise unsuccessful Weimar Republic had something like it. There was a system of proportional representation, and every party got a seat for every 100,000 votes it got. If parties frustrated their voters with partisan bickering and people stayed home, there would be fewer seats, meaning fewer perks, available to all
I like the idea.
Ah yes, one of my hobby horses/pet concepts! I'm all for it (in fact, I was pleading for exactly this system here three years ago
. That whole thread is interesting btw, Thomas.)
I also like Dys's "voting for anarchy" analogy.
I dont think it exists anywhere to this consistent extent though. There are, however, places that do have the "none of the above" or "against all" option on the ballot. An example I'd been following is Russia.
In Russia, in the 1993 parliamentary elections, 4,2% voted "against all" - quite a lot, considering that those were the first free national elections there in 76 years. In 1995, when the election campaign was more highly polarised between Communists and Yeltsin's forces, only 2,8% did so; but by the time the second (run-off) round of the 1996 Presidential elections came round, with a nasty and even more polarised campaign (in which a newspaper called "Ne Dai Bog" ("God Forbid") was distributed door-to-door to warn against the danger of Communist challenger Zhuganov), the number went up again to 4,8% (source
Moreover, as noted in this thread
, in the 2003 parliamentary elections, too, 4,8% voted "none of the above". That's a baffling 2,8 million
Russians who took the trouble to brace the December cold and go to the voting booth to vote against everyone - more votes than for either of the two main liberal/Western-oriented parties, Yabloko and the Union of Rightists, got. (The 4,8% of 1996 amounted to even more Russians - 3,6 million of them - but that was in sunny August. ;-))
In the presidential elections the year after, several smaller groups of both the (far-)left and right as well as organisations like the Nyet Campaign and the Non-governmental Control Group actually campaigned for voters to either boycott the elections or vote "none of the above", and the Central Election Commission was alarmed enough to declare such calls "illegal". That campaign was relatively less successful though, in that only 3,5% ended up voting "against all" (source
The most prominent appearance of this option though has been in regional elections and the vote for directly elected MPs (the Russian system has been a mix of district seats and national, proportional representation lists). Either last year or the year before, I read an article (but didn't save it, alas) about how in the elections for one region's governor, "none of the above" came in a close third, with almost 20% of the vote. And according to this Time story
, "None of the above" was the top vote getter in some constituencies in the 1999 parliamentary elections, forcing re-votes in those districts. Because if more people vote "none of the above" than for any individual candidate, there needs to be a run-off!
That, of course, is rare. It is more commonplace for "against all" to do well when there is an incumbent candidate who faces no contender of significance. "Against all" is then the obvious way to protest this absence of alternatives. A Radio Free Europe item on the gubernatorial elections of 2004 (see this post
) mentions two examples: "In [preliminary results from] Krasnodar Krai, Governor Aleksandr Tkachev won a second term with 84.1 percent of the vote, compared with 7.6 percent for "against all," which came in second [..]. In Murmansk Oblast, Governor Yurii Yevdokimov won a third term with 77.1 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. His closest rival, "against all," received 10.5 percent. Both races were considered by local analysts to be "alternative-less.""
One other country that has at least occasionally used the "none of the above" option is, little known as it may be, the US! Specifically, the state of Nevada includes the option to vote for "NONE OF THESE CANDIDATES" on the ballot and in 1996, 5,608 voters did so - 1,2% of the total number of votes (source
). In 2000, 3,315 Nevadans did so - 0.54% of the total (source
Now what all these examples lack, of course, is enforcement. The option to vote against all is allowed, but remains gratuitous. The exception is where, in Russia, more voters opt for "against all" than any candidate; in that case, forcing a re-run, they wield real power. But otherwise voting "against all" has the same (lack of) effect as not voting at all.
It would indeed only be if the corresponding percentage of seats in parliament were left empty (something that would of course only be possible under proportional representation) that politicians would really get to feel it. I'd bet that if parties would actually get to face, not just political opponents, but swathes of empty seats - forcing them to ally with ever more unpreferred coalition partners to get any majority at all - they would very
soon focus on tackling the apathy and alienation of whole strata of voters.
And that is the elephant in the room; more than the voters who still take the trouble to at least vote for someone, even if it's the opponent, it's the share of people who don't believe anyone anymore, who've turned away from the system altogether, that undermines democracy, basically delegitimising its claim to represent the will of the people altogether.