Can Americans intentionally spoil their votes?

Quick question in light of the recent election recounts etc. In many countries, including my own (Ireland), it is not uncommon (indeed, it is a right we take seriously) to enter a polling booth and deliberately spoil the voting slip, either by just stroking lines through it, or writing some comment of disgust or whatever. I recently had a conversation with an American friend of mine, and I had to explain this concept, that people actually go to the trouble of queueing up to vote just to express their disgust at ‘all of the above’. He said the concept didn’t exist in the US, which seems strange since it is definitely something that you should have the right to do, and this figure should be widely published. So, is this something that you can do in the US? Is it practiced? If not, why not? Something needs to represent not just voter apathy (the stay-at-homes), but voter disgust at the candidates. Just curious…

It completely depends. Every state (or every county in certain states) uses different methods of ballot counting and collection. In NY, where I live, voters flip switches in an antiquated, iron maiden of a voting machine. So short of physically attacking the machine itself, there is no way to express my apathy or distaste.

I imagine that an individual so inclined can write dirty notes or invective on an Oregonian write-in ballot, however.


Most people around here express their disgust by simply staying home. I think the feeling is that mutilating or defacing a ballot wouldn’t get the message across, and what makes you think the ballot counters care? They’ll just shrug and throw it away.

I’m not talking about writing a thesis on the failings of each party on the ballot for the ballot-counters to read, just a means of identifying that you wish to vote for none of the above, and a desire for that opinion to be counted, not thrown away. Simply staying at home is voter apathy, and is not treated as a collective expression of an opinion. It is often treated as a result of people being too lazy to go to the polls, or too lazy to research and consider the issues and candidates. Intentionally spoiled ballots represent those who would vote but are making a point that their opinions are not expressed adequately by the candidates on offer. This is a useful statistic for any potential independents looking to run for the next election (local or otherwise).
BTW, there are some countries in the world (I think Sweden is one), where voting is compulsory, and apathy is not an option, but ‘none-of-the-above’ is.

Sure, you can spoil your ballot. Simply vote for two people for the same office, or leave that section of the ballot blank. There have been many many times I’ve left an office blank because I knew nothing of the judges I was supposed to vote for. Does that mean that someone should come in and assign my blank ballot to one of the judges? No. It was left blank intentionally.

But, I’ve never left a major office blank. And if I don’t know anything about a referendum or initiative I always vote “no”, on the theory that if I haven’t heard of it, it must not be important enough for our tax money to be spent on.

FYI Voting is not compulsory in Sweden, and I think the last time I actually voted for a ‘real’ party (can’t remember which) was some time in the mid eighties. I have, however, voted a couple of elections for Ezenhemmer Plastpåsar och barnuppfostringsredskapspartiet (roughly translated: Ezenhemmer Plastic Bags and Child Rearing Utensils Party). If my memory serves me right we were among the 25-30 most backed parties at one general election (I don’t remember how many votes we got, though).

Well, spoiling a punchcard ballot here is no guarantee that you won’t wind up voting for one of the candidates, as we’re seeing now. :smiley:

Seriously, though, the OP raises an interesting point. Some voting systems (voting machines, touch screens) make deliberate (or accidental) ballot-spoiling impossible. Others (punch cards, color-the-circle) do permit it.

On those that do, though, there’s really no record kept. Punchcard presidential races with 0 holes, 4 holes, or “EVERYBODY SUCKS” scrawled in crayon across the card all get tossed into the same junkpile, and generally get no further thought. Florida’s micro-analyzed election notwithstanding, deliberately spoiled ballots are usually not recorded as such, even though they could be in some counties - they’re just casually assumed to have been cast by idiots who couldn’t figure the ballot out.

It would be interesting if it were really an option.

Another perhaps more popular way to spoil your ballot intentionally is to cast a write-in vote for some unrealistic candidate. Often people will make write-in votes for someone like Mickey Mouse or Gumby if they are unexcited about the candidates running.

I remember watching the election returns and seeing that in Nevada the option “none of these” had a decent showing. I would guess that’s an option on the ballot there. I generally write in names of people I know for state representative and senator, where it’s always people I don’t like running unopposed.

Also, in Sweden, you do not indicate your vote by putting a mark or punching a hole next to a candidate/party. In each voting booth, there is a separate ballot paper for each major party; you indicate your vote by selecting the ballot paper of the party of your choice and putting it in an envelope. That minimizes the amount of controversy that may arise over a single vote; either the piece of paper says “the Socialdemocratic Workers’ Party”, or “the Centre Party”, or something else. It is still possible to invalidate your vote by crossing out the name of the party, or by using a (blank) write-in ballot paper; plenty of people do so as a form of protest.

Lonesome’s point is still valid, however – there are some countries where voting is compulsory. Belgium is one, Australia is another, Greece is a third.

I think that while it just as easy to spoil your ballot in most U.S. counties as it is in Sweden or Ireland, the number of such ballots have traditionally not been reported by U.S. media. This has probably minimized the use of this method as a form of protest. Given what has happened in this election, both these things may change.

I agree with Dub that it is odd that Americans seem to seldom try to find ways to express a NOTA sentiment rather then “choosing the lesser evil” or staying home (which does tend to be interpreted as lazyness, apathy, not caring).

I doubt that it will ever happen, but I’d love to see “None Of The Above” added to the ballot. It would give people the chance to state clearly and plainly “I care enough to go to the polls and vote, but I do not find acceptable any of the choices offered me.”

Regarding write-in candidates, I’d avise against writing in Mickey Mouse. Mr. Mouse is a fine upstanding guy; he’d actually make a better President then many who’ve been nominated for that office in this century. Writing him in doesn’t really express disgust for the candidates on the ballot. Instead, I recommend writing in that perpetual bad boy, Donald Duck. Always losing his temper, can’t hold a job, etc. He’ll get your message across.

I heard that’s why Mad Magazine didn’t sponsor Alfred E. Neuman this year-they said he’d probably have a CHANCE of winning!

I think it was more likely that people would confuse Neuman with Dubya.

waterj2 wrote: I remember watching the election returns and seeing that in Nevada the option “none of these” had a decent showing.

I think Nevada is the only state that actually puts “None of these candidates” on its ballots, but I’m not certain. I do think it’s a good idea, though. If you decide that no one is good enough for the job, there should be a vehicle through which you can say so. My dad tells me that he frequently leaves the slot for the president blank but votes for the other offices. Pennsylvania doesn’t offer a none-of-the-above option, so Dad’s ignoring of the presidential lever has always been unrecorded. He’s been a registered Pennsylvania voter since 1952, and he’s told me that he hasn’t voted for Nixon or McGovern, Bush or Dukakis or Clinton or Dole—and I’d be surprised if he weren’t the only one.

I was in France during the 1995 election and I remember acquaintences of mine engaging in a heated debated over whether to cast blank ballots. The French system allows you to cast a blank ballot, if you wish, but no one actually counts the blank ones, so whether there’s any point in doing this is debatable.

Concerning spoiled ballots in Florida: I think it’s almost a certainty that many of the ballots where no presidential candidate was chosen are votes for none of the above. Those ballots should be treated as such—but the so-called “dimpled chad” clearly need to be counted—though it’s too late for that now.

Voting is compulsory in Australia. One of the accepted ways of showing that none of the available candidates are worthy of a vote is to create another box, place a tick in the box and write the word “Mum” (which is Mom in U.S english)

Many a Mum has been considered more worthy of holding office than the candidates on offer. :smiley:

Those who do vote for Mum however, can not admit it, as whenever they say anything about the state of the country, how high taxes are… etc, they are shouted down because they didn’t constructively vote to change things. Mind you, said Mum-voters then say that as soon as a decent, viable candidate worth voting for comes along, Mum will no longer get their vote. :stuck_out_tongue:

any system that allows ballot-counters to arbitrarily throw away ballots is fundamentally flawed; staying at home is not the same as spoiling a ballot paper (which I have done in the past).

“voter turnout was low this year, only 70% of those eligible to vote made it to the polling station”

would not cause nearly so much concern as:

“30% of voters in this election deliberately abstained by spoiling their ballot papers”

the former would almost always be taken to indicate plain apathy, the latter could have the effect of sending the message to the candidates that they are out of touch with their public.

I agree; that’s why I always show up at the polls and go into the booth even when I choose to vote for neither.


Unfortunately here in America, and I imagine everywhere else, the main purpose of elections is to give the appearance of inclusive government. Raising concern is what the Duopoly is trying to avoid while dividing up the patronage for the next cycle.

Just my 2sense