It’s been an interesting start to the year in the world of campaigning for a NOTA option.
Arvind Kejriwal recently won a landslide victory (India Times) (BBC) (Times of India) in Delhi’s election (Wikipedia) (BBC). His Aam Aadmi Party champions the ideas of both NOTA and Voter Recall. It’s unfortunate that this is only a city-wide election and not a nationwide one. But nonetheless I look forward to hearing more news from India about election reform.
Earlier this month, Mr Birdwell of Demos posted an article about NOTA. I feel he is wrong about promoting online voting and compulsory first time voting though. Online voting greatly opens up the opportunity for election fraud (BBC) (The Independent) (Telegraph). Compulsory voting, even for first-time voters, not only challenges the idea that it should be legal for an adult to sit at home with curtains drawn minding their own business, but also ignores the wider fact that the person may not be sufficiently informed or even interested in voting – such votes would be election “noise” that increases the turnout without genuinely counting up heartfelt political opinion. And it is opinion that matters more than raw numbers. Anyone can build numbers, as witnessed by Britain First’s social media campaign.
Mr Birdwell doesn’t seem clear on the key difference between merely spoiling a ballot and a NOTA with teeth ballot option, confusing the two concepts in some paragraphs. Nonetheless, it’s a good start. He also proposed the idea of open primaries in the resulting by-election. I’m not so sure about this. Asking a party to allow non-party members to assist in choosing their candidate opens up the door to “spoiler” voting, in which the members of the Magenta Party intentionally vote for an extremist candidate for the Mauve Party, in order to spoil the Mauve Party’s chances in the by-election. Most parties already have internal systems in place for choosing their own candidate, and forcing a primary on a smaller party or an independent may result in an excessive cost that they cannot fund, effectively pricing them out of the election.
There’s been some discussion on the Democratic Audit website about NOTA. Mr Berry recently wrote about election reform, claiming that PR, election primaries, and a lower financial burden on candidates would be better ways to make our government democratic, rather than NOTA. Mr Stanley has responded in his own way.
My view is that PR and NOTA are entirely compatible, and should be implemented simultaneously. Election primaries suffer the same problem noted above; namely it either opens the way for non-party members to spoil a party’s primary election, and it can create an unnecessary financial burden. Additionally, it reinforces the idea that people should be voting for parties, which marginalises independent candidates even more. Open primaries can in effect polarise political thought, rather than reflect the true spectrum of political opinion, because there would be a greater expectation that once the primary is completed, dissent within the party should be silenced. Mr Berry also correctly notes that the £500 “entry fee” to standing is a barrier for candidates. What he ignores is that the actual entry fee is closer to £5000, and much more in a hotly-contested seat. Without spending time and/or money (preferably both) on the election campaign, a candidate will be a mere “paper candidate”, and cannot reasonably expect to break triple digits in the vote count, let alone win.
Finally, I have parted company with Mr Stanley of NOTA-UK. I found a recent blog post of his unconscionable, and against the principles by which I personally would campaign for NOTA. In his role as a leader of a NOTA campaign (one of a handful, despite the claim made on the site), he called for unity and for everyone to all be “on the same page”. He then clearly states that he will be taking his own vote home and will support any other group that encourages others to do the same.
If that had been posted his personal blog, it wouldn’t matter. But as leader of a campaign, posting his personal decision on what to do with his ballot paper whilst simultaneously calling for unity, a neutral observer could quite reasonably understand that call for unity to be a request for everyone to do likewise with their ballot (even though he says it is not a policy that the campaign “should be putting all its eggs in”). This is a form of “election hacking” that was discussed in depth in the Facebook group, which I argued strenuously against, as it would in effect reduce the campaign to just another “one of the above” competing for peoples “votes”.
I am flattered that he continues to champion a slightly modified form of the NOTA with teeth proposal that I posted some 18 months before his version. I still support, and will continue to campaign for, a “NOTA with teeth” option on UK ballots.