TOP NOTA FAQ: What happens if NOTA ‘wins’?

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.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
11/12/14

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9 thoughts on “TOP NOTA FAQ: What happens if NOTA ‘wins’?

  1. Jay Blanc December 13, 2014 at 11:52 Reply

    There’s a fundamental flaw here… If NOTA ‘winning’ results in the second place being appointed, then unless you also change the entire system to national STV that will likely just result in a handful of by-elections after a year. Subjecting those unlucky constituencies to massive blitz campaigns from the national parties. If those by-elections could change the government, that would then mean you’re essentially re-running the national election based on the choices of a small subsection of it. That’s hardly better democracy.

    If you do change the entire system, then you have another problem. Because no government is going to want to sit for 12 months then have an election. It makes better sense for them to just dissolve as quickly as possible, so they can get back to campaigning. So we’d basically be firing off elections till someone won. And then you’re going to see voter engagement plummet.

    I also suggest there’s a base assumption that because you would vote NOTA if you could, you think much more people would vote NOTA if they could. But that’s an assumption, and one that leads you to discard “toothless” NOTA because it doesn’t get the level of votes you think it should.

    The fundamental mistake is your assumption that those who are unenthused by the candidates/parties will be enthused to go out to vote if there’s a NOTA option. Instead they’ll likely do what they’ve always done, and just stay home and not vote.

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    • theapathymyth December 13, 2014 at 12:37 Reply

      You make a lot of assumptions yourself Jay. I speak to new people every day who would certainly vote NOTA if they could. You’ve made the fundamental error of assuming that the majority of people that don’t vote are apathetic, when in reality most simply feel that there is very little point in voting and would formally reject all that is on offer in a heartbeat if they could.

      You also contradict yourself. You say that people wouldn’t vote NOTA in numbers, but that there would be multiple by-elections after a year if we had NOTA in place. Which is it? It can’t be both. In order for there to be multiple by-elections after one year, the majority of voters would have to have voted NOTA in multiple constituencies.

      I personally am in favour of STV as well. But NOTA is compatible, and indeed essential, in any voting system. I do not follow why you think our caretaker proposal would only work if STV was rolled out nationally. It would work now, as things stand.

      Finally, your assertion that multiple NOTA triggered by-elections potentially changing the government is undemocratic is demonstrably false. It wouldn’t be a case of a small sub-section deciding the government for everyone else. If NOTA triggered by-election results were ever to tip the balance of power nationally towards a different party, the new seats would just be added to the ones they already had. So nationally, the party with the majority of votes overall would still be in power. Remember, the by-elections are not new elections, they are an extension of the original election.

      All in all, your criticisms of our proposal don’t stand up to scrutiny, in my view.

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  2. Jay Blanc December 13, 2014 at 15:04 Reply

    No, I was saying that *if* NOTA ever made a difference, it would be in that negative way. Most of the time it wouldn’t, but when it did it wouldn’t be a good one.

    And no, if the seats in NOTA by-elections swung an election, it couldn’t possibly still be the ‘same’ result as the previous national election. Your disputing that makes no sense. It creates a new ‘total’ of seats that would be a set by a small part of the population in small geographical locations that the national parties would have all descend on in a blitz of campaigning. The only way to avoid that would be to call a fresh general election instead. (This would be even worse if instead of national STV, you had regional STV!)

    The problem is that it’s easy to see that either NOTA has no effect, therefore won’t mean anything, or it will have an effect and that effect is to have to have another election. And you even acknowledge that’s not good for voter engagement.

    Also, “I speak to new people every day who would certainly vote NOTA if they could.” is anecdotal evidence that’s got the significant bias of you selecting your own sample set. Come back when you’ve performed an actual national survey with rigorous statistical standards.

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  3. theapathymyth December 13, 2014 at 15:38 Reply

    Again, all assumption, no substance. Your assertion about a by-election triggered change of government being unrepresentative of how the electorate have voted is demonstrably false. It is a clear logical fallacy. The by-elections would be the essential 2nd round of the initial election, triggered by a voiding of the initial result in specific constituencies due to most people rejecting all the candidates. The results of this second round would then be added to the seat tally from the initial election. They wouldn’t represent a separate poll as you seem to be suggesting. That’s just a clear, unambiguous fact.

    So, logically speaking, if those results were to shift the balance of power nationally, then it would indeed be correct for there to be a change of government. I agree that many people would not understand a sudden change of government based on a handful of by-elections, despite it being logically sound. In that scenario, I would suggest calling a new general election would be the best solution. Of course there needs to be a mechanism in place to deal with this scenario should it arise and a new general election would make most sense. The important thing to remember though is that this scenario is a very extreme one and highly unlikely to arise.

    To address your misrepresentation, I have never said that having to have another election due to most people voting NOTA would be a bad thing. It wouldn’t be. It would be democracy in action. What I’ve said is that instant re-runs would be impractical due to voter fatigue and that having empty seats or non-political civil servant caretaker MP’s that no-one voted for holding the fort would never fly. Hence our proposal to deal with these issues.

    You obviously don’t support NOTA in the first place Jay and are just trying to pick holes in our proposal to deal with a NOTA win as a means to the end of discrediting NOTA itself.

    But NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite. Voters MUST be able to formally withhold consent in a true democracy. If they can’t it isn’t one. If they can, then there has to be a mechanism in place to deal with all eventualities. We feel that our proposal covers all bases and is the fairest compromise. If you have a better idea, you are welcome to submit it. But your previous comments suggest that you are here simply to argue against NOTA. In which case, what you’re actually doing is arguing against the concept of democracy itself.

    As for ‘selecting my own sample’, I talk about politics to ordinary people from all walks of life on a regular basis. Many have political allegiances to political parties. But by far the majority have nothing but absolute disdain for all of them and wish they could meaningfully reject them at the ballot box in some way. Yes, that is anecdotal. So what? It’s still very telling.

    Surely, the best national survey would be to put NOTA ‘with teeth’ on the ballot box next May and see what happens. Don’t you agree?

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  4. john shale December 13, 2014 at 15:58 Reply

    if nota were to get elected, then income could be used for advertising and running constituency poolls/referenda, where candidate votes the majority wish.

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  5. Anon December 30, 2014 at 14:47 Reply

    I think the NOTA could only be successfully implemented if voting is made a legal obligation. As mentioned already, I think its inclusion in isolation will not bring about the increase in voter turnout you are expecting.
    Step 1 – Make voting a legal obligation
    Step 2 – Introduce NOTA

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    • theapathymyth December 30, 2014 at 15:03 Reply

      The problem with making voting compulsory (aside from the removal of free will and the right to not participate at all, rights that should be respected at all times in any true democracy as coercion is force, an authoritarian tool that flies in the face of that ideal) is that when people are forced to vote it inevitably skews the results. People who would otherwise have not bothered tend to either vote at random or, worse still, for whoever is top of the list. This does nothing to increase democratic participation or bolster the winner’s mandate, it just muddies the waters further. So with that in mind, it makes no sense to say that we should only have NOTA in the context of compulsory voting, the benefits of which are negligible. Having NOTA in place is not just about boosting turnout, although it certainly would do that. It is primarily about getting an essential democratic pre-requisite (the ability to withhold consent) in place and the long term, knock on benefits that having such a check and balance in the system would bring to our democracy, simply by its very presence. As such, NOTA must surely be included as an electoral reform in and of itself, regardless of whether voting remains optional or not.

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  6. […] that I have in some way acted improperly. The proposal for dealing with a NOTA ‘win’ on our website is one that you, I and others agreed on after much discussion of your original idea. It is not mine […]

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  7. […] That is democracy in action. (We have a proposal to deal with the logistics of this, see here: https://nota-uk.org/2014/12/11/top-nota-faq-what-happens-if-nota-wins […]

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