Elections. Partially blank ballot: do all jurisdictions treat them the same?

Do all US jurisdictions treat a partially blank ballot in an identical manner? Are there any places where an incomplete ballot results in the entire ballot being thrown out? (My guess: no). It seems to me that “No opinion” should be perfectly acceptable, especially for many of the smaller offices or the judicial choices.

If somebody abstains, I also assume that their vote is not included in the denominator, in places where victory requires over 50% of the vote.
Abstention: Abstention - Wikipedia
Protest vote: Protest vote - Wikipedia
Spoilt vote (which is an odd term I say): Spoilt vote - Wikipedia

I understand that political scientists study undervoting (or blank choices) and overvoting (where people choose more than one without explicit instructions to do so). ISTM that an overvote should be considered a spoilt vote, but wikipedia also labels undervoting as a type of vote spoiling, to my consternation.

I think that should be interpreted that an undervote may be a type of vote spoiling (depending on the rules of the jurisdiction or whatever). Not that it is always a spoilt vote.

(And yeah, it’s weird to write “spoilt”.)

IIRC ( and I’ll go look for something to back this up shortly) in Michigan, for electoral ballots you have the option of either voting for a “straight” ticket (indicate that you are voting for all candidates of a particular party) or not doing so and filling in individual votes. If you select one of the “straight ticket” options, then fill in a vote in any of the partisan sections, your ballot is tossed.

(missed edit window)

nope, actually I’m completely wrong on that one.

you can vote for a “Straight” ticket, but still make individual votes in the partisan sections w/o invalidating your ballot.

and to answer the OP’s question, in MI entering an incomplete ballot does not invalidate your ballot:

anything left blank is a “no vote.” which is good, I’ve left plenty of blank votes in the past. When it comes to things like electing the Regents of the University of Michigan, or the Board of Governors for the local community college, or district judges about whom I know nothing, I don’t vote on them. If I don’t know enough about candidates to make a choice, I’m not going to throw a dart. I’ll just cast a no-vote.

The answer really is, “It depends.”

Where I live, we had a couple of by-elections yesterday: Newcastle and Charlestown. in those there were 8 and 9 candidates, respectively, for seats in the New South Wales lower house of parliament. The election uses an optional preferential system. so voters could vote for one candidate, or could vote for all the candidates (using the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). In these elections, if you just vote for one candidate, your vote would count for that person, but, if they were eliminated in a later count because they were not one of the two leading candidates, that vote would be exhausted, and not count for anyone on the final count.

However the system for the Australian lower house of Parliament is different: it has a preferential system for one-member electorates where a vote for just one candidate would be informal, even if you vote for one of the leading two candidates, so that your vote would not be exhausted. That means that a “partially blank” ballot is invalid in Australian law, but valid in New South Wales law.

But the OP is probably thinking of the situation where elections are held for multiple offices at the same time. That happens in New South Wales and Australia, most commonly where you vote for both houses of Parliament, or in a local election where you vote for councillors and for mayor. In those cases, the two elections have separate ballot papers, so there’s no way of knowing when looking at one ballot paper how the voter voted on the other ballot paper, and so an incomplete vote has no effect on the valid vote.

Interesting question and something I have never thought about. I never vote for judges, school board candidates, RTD board members, university presidents, etc. I just leave them blank becuase I don’t keep up on those people. It never occurred to me that it would be considered an incomplete ballot by anyone, especially election judges. I can understand where one of the candidates might be concerned, I guess, but that is there problem.


In the US, we always have multiple offices up for election at once, as well as a handful of referenda. And they’re always on the same ballot: To give voters a separate ballot for each of them would be a logistical nightmare.

Yeah, here in Chicago, about half the ballot (in terms of pages, more in terms of percentage of votable items) is for judicial retention. I counted 73 judges you were supposed to answer “yes” or “no” for the question: “Shall each of the persons listed be retained in office as Judge of the Circuit Court, Cook County Judicial Circuit?” Most people I know just skip over all of those. I look up the various legal associations and check their ratings out and find the one to five judges or so that are disfavored by the majority, but it’s impossible, except for the very most insanely dedicated voter, to actually research each judge individually in detail and whether they are worthy of retention or not.

I work in the elections industry. The concept being referred to is an “undervote”. As far as I know undervotes are universally allowed and never result in an entire ballot being thrown out. The tabulation systems I am familiar with may be configured to warn voters that they have undervoted (depending on the jurisdiction). Even paper ballot scanners can hold the ballot, ask the voter to confirm that they wish to vote an incomplete ballot and return ballot to said voter if desired.

On the other hand, overvotes are when too many choices are made for a race. In my experience, overvotes universally invalidate the contest where too many options were selected, but not the rest of the ballot.

Modern tabulation systems record the number of undervotes and overvotes for each race, but they are rarely reported to the public.

That’s good to know. I never vote for every office and/or every initiative. Senators and representatives? Yes. Dog catcher? I don’t care. And if the office only has one candidate with no opportunity to write one in, what’s the point? If one person votes for him, he wins. If I don’t care about a particular issue, I won’t vote for or against the initiative.

Are there actually such contests?
Here in Minnesota, I believe every elective office must have a write-in option. Even those that have a Constitutional requirement, like Judgeships (must be “learned in the law”).

(I’m not sure what would happen if a write-in candidate with no legal training or experience actually won such an election. I suspect the Courts would stay out of it, saying in effect ‘the voters thought him “learned in the law” enough to elect him, so be it.’)