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    PROTEST VOTES IN EUROPE

    Legal Memorandum

    January 2014

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    Protest Votes in Europe, January 2014

    PROTEST VOTES IN EUROPE

    Executive Summary

    The purpose of this memorandum is to analyze European state practice in

    the use of protest voting options, which provide voters the ability to voice general

    or specific dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates, the voting process itself,

    or the government in general. A protest vote may also demonstrate that a voter is

    indifferent to the available options, whether due to a lack of knowledge on the part

    of the voter or failure by political parties to align with voter preferences. Three

    countries are examined in this memo.

    Protest votes may take many forms, depending on the rules and regulations

    governing voting in each electoral system. For instance, voters may cast a white

    vote by intentionally failing to mark the ballot or by submitting a specificallydesignated ballot that lists no candidates. Voters may use white votes as an

    informal protest vote option in voting systems where no official protest option

    exists. Voters may also express dissatisfaction through a none of the above

    (NOTA) option. When officially placed on the ballot, NOTA options limit

    ambiguity associated with other methods of non-voting, such as white votes. Even

    more deliberately, voters may write-in a candidate not listed on the ballot. Protest

    votes may also refer to a vote that is deliberately incomplete, invalidly marked, or

    submitted contrary to the electoral systems regulations. States can choose

    whether to allow official protest vote options in the voting process and whether

    those protest votes are recognized as such, and counted towards the election

    results.

    In Spain, when a voter submits an empty envelope without a ballot, it is

    considered a white vote (voto en blanco). Under Spanish Election law, white votes

    are tallied and counted as valid votes. As parties need to obtain a minimum

    percent of valid votes to be considered eligible to receive legislative seats, white

    votes may affect whether a party receives enough votes to cross the minimum

    threshold.

    Protest votes in France also take the form of a white vote (vote blanc),which

    consists of a submitting a blank sheet of paper with no markings of any kind. The

    vote blancprovides a means for voters to express dissatisfaction with the

    candidates offered. After election officials have separated white votes from other

    ballots, white votes are invalidated and cannot be recounted as part of the election.

    In 2012, the white vote helped Francois Hollande beat incumbent President

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    Nicolas Sarkozy. In the vote, supporters of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen

    followed her lead in casting a white vote rather than support right-of-center

    Sarkozy. In doing so, Marine Le Pen effectively denied President Sarkozy votes

    that likely would have been cast in his favor.

    Prior to 2006, Russian voters had the option of casting a NOTA vote by

    selecting the against all candidates option at the end of the list of candidates. An

    election would be considered invalid if there were more against all votes than

    there were votes in favor of the leading candidate. Removing the NOTA option

    has had a meaningful impact on the outcome of elections, including helping current

    President Vladimir Putin secure victory.

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    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    Statement of Purpose 1

    Introduction 1

    Types of Protest Votes 1

    White Votes 2

    None of the Above Option 2

    Write-in Vote 4

    Spoiled Ballot 5

    Distinguishing Protest Votes 6

    Spain 7Protest Vote: White Vote 7

    Application in Elections 7

    Lessons Learned 8

    France 10

    Protest Vote: White Vote 10

    Application in Elections 11

    Lessons Learned 11

    Russia 13

    Protest Vote: NOTA Option 13

    Application in Elections 15

    Lessons Learned 16

    Conclusion 17

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    1

    PROTEST VOTES IN EUROPE

    Statement of Purpose

    The purpose of this memorandum is to analyze European state practice in

    the use of protest voting options, which provide voters the ability to voice general

    or specific dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates, the voting process itself,

    or the government in general.

    Introduction

    In democratic institutions, some of the most significant decisions are made

    by public vote, such as the election of representatives, referenda on pertinent

    issues, or recall elections to remove elected officials from office.1 In European

    states, presidents and political officials are elected to office through a votingsystem, which enables the general population to voice its political opinions.

    Generally, voting systems promote a positive public policy by helping determine

    the populations opinions regarding candidates, political parties, or the voting

    system. If the voter is unhappy with the choice of candidates, the voting process

    itself, or the government in general, the voter may enter a protest vote.2 A protest

    vote may also demonstrate a voters inability to find an electoral option that aligns

    with his or her preferences.3

    Types of Protest Votes

    Depending on the rules of the states electoral system and what the voter is

    protesting, protest votes may take the form of a white vote, a none of the above

    (NOTA) option, a write-in entry, or a spoiled ballot.4 States can choose whether to

    allow official protest vote options in the voting process and whether those protest

    votes are counted towards the election results.5

    1Grant M. Hayden,Abstention: The Unexpected Power of Withholding Your Vote, 43 CONNECTICUT LAW REVIEW

    585, 587 (2010), available at

    http://uconn.lawreviewnetwork.com/files/documents/GrantM.Hayden43Conn.L.Rev.585.pdf.2Grant M. Hayden,Abstention: The Unexpected Power of Withholding Your Vote, 43 CONNECTICUT LAW REVIEW

    585, 58996 (2010), available at

    http://uconn.lawreviewnetwork.com/files/documents/GrantM.Hayden43Conn.L.Rev.585.pdf.3Electronic Voting Machines Blank Vote Option, ACEPROJECT(Apr. 8, 2009), available at

    http://aceproject.org/electoral-advice/archive/questions/replies/130400041.4Electronic Voting Machines Blank Vote Option, ACEPROJECT(Apr. 8, 2009), available at

    http://aceproject.org/electoral-advice/archive/questions/replies/130400041.5Sabir Shah,Many Countries Have No Vote Provision,THE INTERNATIONALNEWS (Feb. 26, 2013),available at

    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-162214-Many-countries-have-No-Vote-provision.

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    2

    White Votes

    A white vote (also known as a blank vote) occurs when a voter intentionally

    fails to mark the ballot or submits a specifically designated ballot that lists no

    candidates.6 A white vote may be cast for an entire election ballot or a single

    elected function.7

    States can choose whether or not to officially consider white votes valid, or

    to count them in final valid vote totals. If not an official option of the voting

    system, white votes may carry the downside of resembling other methods of non-

    voting, such as abstention or roll-off (i.e., when a voter makes a selection for

    prestige officers but not for lower offices on the same ballot).8 In such cases,

    election officials may confuse white votes made in protest with other non-voting

    options or otherwise invalid ballots.

    In states that do not have compulsory voting, white votes can be a more

    rigorous form of non-voting, as casting a white vote requires voters to register and

    submit a ballot where they otherwise could abstain from voting.9 In such cases,

    white votes represent a more stringent form of protest than abstention or other less-

    expensive and labor-intensive forms of non-voting.10

    None of the Above Option

    Voters may also express dissatisfaction through a none of the above (NOTA)

    option. When officially placed on the ballot, NOTA options limit ambiguity

    associated with other methods of non-voting, such as white votes.11

    NOTA options

    demonstrate a clear, purposeful protest vote by the voter, assuming the voter

    6Graeme Orr, The Choice Not to Choose: Commonwealth Electoral Law and the Withholding of Preferences, 23

    MONASH UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW285, 29192 (1997).7Graeme Orr, The Choice Not to Choose: Commonwealth Electoral Law and the Withholding of Preferences, 23

    MONASH UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW285, 29192 (1997).8

    R. Darcy & Anne Schneider, Confusing Ballots, Roll-Off, and the Black Vote, 12 THE WESTERN POLITICALQUARTERLY347, 34950 (1989).9Parti Du Vote Blanc,Le Vote Blanc??: Vote Blanc, Vote Nul & Abstention (last accessed Nov. 11, 2013), available

    in French at http://www.parti-du-vote-blanc.fr/comprendre/le-vote-blanc/.10

    David F. Damore, Mallory M. Waters, and Shaun Bowler, Unhappy, Uninformed, or Uninterested?:Understanding None of the Above Voting, 65 POLITICAL RESEARCH QUARTERLY1, 1 (2011), available at

    http://faculty.unlv.edu/dfdamore/Publications/Nevada%20NOTA%20Final.pdf.11

    David F. Damore, Mallory M. Waters, & Shaun Bowler, Unhappy, Unin