This post will hopefully clarify an issue that has come to the fore recently in light of a recent upsurge of interest in our campaign.
By far the most common question asked when people engage with us is: “But what would happen if NOTA ‘wins’?”
Well firstly, that depends on how NOTA is implemented. In India, for example, there is what we like to call NOTA-lite, or faux-NOTA. In this scenario, NOTA is merely a symbolic protest option with no formalised consequences for the result if it ‘wins’. In other words, even if NOTA were to poll the most votes, nothing would happen. The next placed candidate would take office anyway.
It is difficult to see the point of this. Without ‘teeth’, there is surely no more incentive for disillusioned voters to formally withhold their consent this way than if there were no NOTA option at all. This, in our view, accounts for why the NOTA option in India recently only polled 1.1% of the nationwide vote.
To be an effective check and balance in the system, there must be formalised consequences in the event of a NOTA win. Specifically, a re-run election (nationally, if applicable) or by-elections wherever NOTA has polled the most votes.
This is the NOTA ‘with teeth’ that we at NOTA UK are campaigning for. If implemented this way, we feel sure millions of people who currently feel unrepresented at the ballot box would be re-engaged. This in itself ought to be enough to trigger an organic cleaning up of politics, as would-be MP’s and political parties would be forced to try to win over these newly engaged potential voters and not just their core demographics.
The next logical question then is: “But won’t the re-run/by-elections be a logistical nightmare?”
This is a legitimate question. At NOTA UK, we have come up with a proposal that we feel covers all bases and is the fairest and most workable solution.
Our proposal is that to avoid political instability and voter fatigue, rather than have an immediate re-run general election (if NOTA ‘won’ nationally) and/or immediate by-elections in constituencies where NOTA has ‘won’, the second placed party / candidates should be allowed to take office temporarily for six to twelve months while the logistics of the re-run/by-elections are put in place.
Some people have expressed scepticism as this proposal so I think it’s important to explain the rationale behind it.
There are two issues that the prospect of re-run/by-elections raise: voter fatigue and political instability.
Some have suggested that instant re-runs/by-elections would be better. We feel that voter fatigue would be a real problem in that scenario. It’s hard enough to get people out to vote once every couple of years as it is, asking people to do so twice in quick succession is probably a bridge too far. The likely consequence would be a much lower turnout for the re-run/by-elections, skewing the result significantly, possibly even allowing in a party or candidate who polled terribly first time round. For this reason, we feel it makes lots of sense to have a delay.
Then there is the issue of political instability. Most voters would agree that it is not right to have an empty parliament or empty seats with no-one representing their interests while the logistics of the next round of voting are put in place. So it makes sense for there to be a caretaker government or MP’s holding the fort, so to speak.
Some have suggested that if NOTA has ‘won’ the election, the caretakers should be non-political and independent administrators, say civil servants, rather than rejected politicians from rejected political parties. It’s a nice idea, but it raises serious questions: In all honesty, who is truly independent and non-political? And will voters accept people being in power, even temporarily, who no-one even voted for in the first place?
For this reason, we feel it makes much more sense to allow whoever has polled the most votes after NOTA to take office but strictly on a temporary, caretaker basis, for no more than 12 months, while the second round of voting is organised.
This will obviously not please everybody. But we feel it is the best compromise available once all considerations are taken into account. The caretaker, who would still have polled well, would have an opportunity to prove themselves worthy ahead of the second round of voting while their opponents would have a chance to regroup.
The important thing to remember is that all concerned would then surely be minded to address NOTA voters concerns and try to win them over in the meantime, or face further rejection at the ballot box.
This is democracy in action.
The knock on effect of this ought to be that more people not only become more engaged, but actually feel they have something worth voting for in the first place. The beauty of NOTA is that it is a check and balance whose very presence could eventually cause it to be used less and less.
I hope this answers some questions. Feel free to ask more in the comments, I or someone else will try to answer them as best we can.