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what is the purpose of the blank vote? What is the difference with a null vote or abstention?

Blank and invalid votes are counted and made public, but they are not considered as votes cast. Clearly, voters who move to slip a blank ballot, an empty envelope or a void ballot into the ballot box have no more weight than abstainers. And yet, the volume of these is substantial and even broke records in 2017: 11.5% of voters voted blank or null in the second round of the presidential election (4 million people); 9.9% of voters in the second round of legislative elections a month later (3.4 million). Their level fell slightly during the following elections – European, municipal, departmental and regional –, yet marked by a strong abstention.

What is the difference between a blank vote and a null vote?

According to the electoral code, the white vote corresponds to an empty envelope or a blank ballot which must have the same characteristics (size, color, weight) as the candidates’ ballots.

It differs from the invalid vote, declared as such when the ballot paper is annotated, torn, with several different ballots, presented without an envelope or if it is considered to be non-regulatory.

What does the law provide?

Since the law of February 21, 2014, blank and invalid votes are no longer counted together: “Blank ballots are counted separately and attached to the minutes. They are not taken into account for the determination of the votes cast, but special mention is made of them in the results of the ballots. »

However, when the ballot boxes are counted, a number of blank votes are finally counted as invalid. This is the case when voters are unable to obtain a blank ballot paper, corresponding to the standards of the electoral code (they are not distributed in the polling stations), or do not dare to deposit an empty envelope, worried about be noticed.

“This law divides two categories of ballots that are difficult to distinguish in practice, so it further understates the results”, deplores Jérémie Moualek, lecturer at the University of Evry (Essonne) and specialist in the blank vote. The researcher publishes photographs of newsletters from the archives daily on his blog and on Twitter – in total, he collected more than 20,000 between 1992 and 2012. “The blank and void vote being completely invisible, I wanted to show how this electoral behavior really materializes, which takes very diverse forms at the ballot box”, he explains. Sometimes disinterested, sometimes carrying a real message, some express great dismay in the face of the proposed political offer.

What do the candidates propose on the white vote?

In their program for the presidential election, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Yannick Jadot, Nathalie Arthaud, Jean Lassalle and Anne Hidalgo are in favor of taking the blank vote into account as votes cast. The positions of Eric Zemmour, Fabien Roussel, Valérie Pécresse, Marine Le Pen and Philippe Poutou are not clear. For his part, Emmanuel Macron dismissed this idea when it was proposed by the “yellow vests” in 2019, when he had previously shown himself open to it.

“It is a subject that is constantly exploited in politics without being seriously analyzed”, comments Jérémie Moualek. Most of the candidates’ proposals are imprecise. Should it be taken into account in the votes cast in all elections? Only in the first round, as advocated by the White Vote Party? Be accompanied by a power of sanction, such as the invalidation of elections, to really weigh on the political offer?

What could the recognition of the blank vote change?

The “Make Democracy Win” campaign, led by the Open Democracy collective, campaigns in particular for blank ballots to be available in polling stations and for them to count as votes cast. If the results indicate a majority of blank votes, then the elections should be invalidated and new candidates should stand. “Today considered useless, the blank vote could be used much more to express distrust or rejection of the political offer if tomorrow it could force the reorganization of an election”believes Armel Le Coz, co-founder of Open Democracy.

Counting the scores of the “winners” of an election, including blank and invalid votes, and abstention, would also put the real legitimacy of representatives into perspective. If the blank and null vote – at 11.5% in 2017 – had been taken into account, Emmanuel Macron’s victory would have been narrower: his score would then have fallen from 66.1% to 58.5%; and for Marine Le Pen, from 33.9% to 30%.

  • How is the blank vote considered elsewhere in the world?

In Europe, the Netherlands and Spain count the blank vote in the votes cast for each election and it is included in the percentages to define the electoral thresholds. However, it is not taken into account during legislative elections for the distribution of seats in Parliament.

Sweden recognizes the blank vote in certain elections and for referenda. Greece also counts it, but reallocates it to the winner of the election.

In Switzerland, the blank vote is taken into account in the first round to reach an absolute majority, but not for the second round.

The blank vote is counted more in the votes cast in South America. It even has an incapacitating power in Colombia and Peru.

In 2017, Mongolia came very close to holding new elections after the blank vote reached 8%. A 2015 Mongolian electoral law provides that if the blank vote reaches more than 10%, and none of the candidates obtains an absolute majority, new elections must be held with new candidates.

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