Tag Archives: NOTA UK

GUEST BLOG: Is NOTA a Legal Requirement?

In an update to his guest blog from last year, NOTA UK’s Rohin Vadera further explores the question:

Is a ‘None of the Above’ option on ballot papers a legal requirement?

In September 2013, the Indian Supreme Court (SC) ruled that electronic voting machines (EVMs) must include a ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option for the upcoming national election. Its presence was intended to provide the option for a voter to effectively spoil their vote in private, otherwise impossible given the way voters cast their vote through an EVM.

In this case the NOTA option allowed voters to come to the polling section to register their desire to abstain from the voting process. But it did not function as a true NOTA option, which is a mechanism to formally reject all candidates on offer and initiate a re-run election if need be.

The full judgement is available here: http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Law/2013/vote_none.pdf

What is interesting from the NOTA UK point of view is that the SC based its judgement on sections from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the latter of which India has ratified (as has the UK). The ICCPR in particular is a covenant that the UK is legally bound to follow and its terms cannot be overturned by an act of parliament, as I understand it.

Part of the SC judgement is laid out below:

49) However correspondingly, we should also appreciate that the election is a mechanism, which ultimately represents the will of the people. The essence of the electoral system should be to ensure freedom of voters to exercise their free choice. Article 19 guarantees all individuals the right to speak, criticize, and disagree on a particular issue. It stands on the spirit of tolerance and allows people to have diverse views, ideas and ideologies. Not allowing a person to cast a vote negatively defeats the very freedom of expression and the right ensured in Article 21 (of the UDHR) i.e., the right to liberty.

(Text highlighted by author)

The SC gave reasons why it felt that the NOTA option was an important part of the voting process:

55) Giving right to a voter not to vote for any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy. Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties. When the political parties realise that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systematic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity.

I certainly agree with the reasoning. However, for NOTA to have a substantive impact as described above it must be able to affect the results of an election in a formalised and robust manner. Politicians are used to widespread approbation, so a widely used symbolic NOTA option could be shrugged off, or used in some type of political game that results in no substantive positive changes.

A symbolic NOTA option provides little incentive for disillusioned voters to express their voice as there are no clear and unambiguous consequences to that choice. Uncertainty is the worst outcome of all and undermines the use of this type of NOTA, as disillusioned voters would likely steer clear of the voting process altogether, instead of choosing an ineffective NOTA option.

The SC has also made the common mistake of conflating NOTA with abstention, using it as a mechanism to ‘actively abstain’, rather than reject, in the hope that it will have a positive impact.

So what is the relevance to the UK situation?

Firstly the Indian experience demonstrates that documents like the UDHR and the ICCPR carry weight in determination of election law and secondly there is a good reason to believe that these documents have clauses that require a properly functioning NOTA option that allows voters to reject all candidates with formalised consequences.

Before going into the aforementioned documents, readers should remember that NOTA confers the ability to withhold one’s consent during an election process and thereby ensures that consent can also be validly given, thus making an election a democratic process where voters are the sovereign power. Without NOTA you cannot have an electoral democracy. It is as simple as that.

What I hope to demonstrate is that not only is it a democratic pre-requisite, it is also a legal requirement for any country that has agreed to abide by the UDHR, and especially the ICCPR.

UDHR Article 21.3 is relevant to NOTA, in my view:

21.3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

(Text highlighted by author)

ICCPR Article 25(b) is also relevant:

25. Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.

(Text highlighted by author)

UDHR 21.3 is clear and unambiguous in its support for a bona fide NOTA option. If the ‘will of the people’ is the basis of a government’s authority, then that government must surely have obtained their consent first. And how can voters give consent unless there is a commensurate ability to withhold it?

This is of course assuming that the oft used phrase ‘will of the people’ actually means what it says rather than being a meaningless cliché, included for effect.

The ICCPR article 25(b) is a little more subtle, but once understood, equally compelling. Elections are supposed to guarantee ‘the free expression of the will of the electors’. How can that be guaranteed unless their consent has been sought and obtained?

For those in any doubt, if we examine the dictionary meaning of ‘will’, in this context it means: expressing desire, consent, or willingness.

How can any government that is based on the will of the electorate not have their consent? Once we can establish that consent cannot be formally given (by voting) without a bona fide NOTA option facilitating the formal withholding of it, the UK is, arguably, legally bound to provide it.

The ICCPR is especially important in this regard as the UK agency responsible for elections could theoretically be sued for breach of covenant if they failed to carry out elections as set out by the terms of the ICCPR and could in turn be liable for monetary recompense to the aggrieved parties i.e. all UK citizens. The ramifications are enormous.

I don’t recommend that anyone rush off to sue the UK government just yet (unless you allow me to join in!), but it is an interesting avenue to pursue should other ways of bringing this important reform into the election process not come to fruition.

Rohin Vadera

16/04/15

The full text of the UDHR and ICCPR can be found here:

The UDHR is here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Pages/Language.aspx?LangID=eng

The ICCPR is here: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx

Party Politics & Coalition Government

I want to briefly talk about party politics in the UK and how it plays into coalition formation.

The first thing to note is that you don’t have to be opposed to party politics in general or all of the parties on offer to support the idea of having a formal ‘None Of The Above’ option on the ballot paper. You can support a political party and acknowledge the importance of being able to formally withhold consent at an election via NOTA, essential in any true democracy – these two things are not mutually exclusive.

At the same time, it is important to understand the reality of how our system works. There is much talk of coalitions at the moment, the favoured outcome for many being a ‘rainbow coalition’ of Labour, Lib Dems, SNP and possibly even the Greens. On the surface of it, this seems like a reasonable outcome, a potentially more ‘left leaning’ and progressive government.

But there is a huge problem here, one that is not immediately obvious unless you fully understand how our current system works. The problem is that even in a coalition of more than two parties, the party whip system, that ensures MP’s always have to tow the party line or face punishment, effectively becomes a government whip system, in practice, on issues that could ‘make or break’ the coalition.

In addition, the completely outdated and inappropriate First Past The Post voting system (designed for two party politics) ensures that the vast majority of MP’s will be elected with far less than 50% of the votes cast, while there are over 300 safe Labour and Conservative seats. This means that, mathematically speaking, the dominant party in any coalition will always be Labour or the Conservatives as they will always have more votes than the other coalition parties combined.

This means that, in practice, only one or other of those two parties can ever call the shots in government, no matter what the outcome of an election.

It’s a closed shop, a two horse race. Every. Single. Time.

This is why we will need to have an official NOTA option on ballot papers – with formalised consequences for the result if the majority were to choose it – before there is any point in trying to change the system by engaging with it (unless you are happy with Labour and/or the Conservatives ruling the roost for ever more).

For anyone one who wants to do the math(s), the latest seat predictions can be found here: http://may2015.com/category/seat-calculator/

Of course, a change to the voting system to one that recognises the existence of more than two parties, is long overdue also. But it can always be argued, by those that benefit from it, that the current system is ‘democratic enough’ and ‘works just fine’. NOTA, by contrast, can be shown to be a democratic pre-requisite as it is the only way to withhold consent formally at an election (consent being central to the concept of democracy and only truly measurable if it is possible to withhold it), the key word here being formally, as giving consent by voting is formal so the withholding of it must be also (the only other options being abstaining or ballot spoiling, both informal acts that in no way affect the result and therefore in no way constitute withholding consent formally).

Once properly understood this way, it becomes impossible to argue against NOTA without arguing against democracy itself. For this reason, above all other potential reforms, it is achievable and could pave the way for further reform of our system of government. This is why NOTA should be the priority for all pro-democracy campaigners at this time.

Far from being a negative cop out or a wrecking option, inclusion of NOTA on ballots remains a positive, logical progression towards an actual, true democracy, where the playing field is more level and more than two establishment parties – and parties not even of the establishment – can find themselves on an equal footing.

Only then will support for parties other than the main two actually mean something and the formation of coalition governments have the potential to be progressive.

Get involved here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/inclusion-of-an-official-none-of-the-above-option-for-all-uk-elections-2

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
13/04/15

GAME ON: A response to Andrew Marr

The first shot in our long anticipated battle to define NOTA in the mainstream media has been fired by none other than the BBC’s Andrew Marr writing in the New Statesmen.

And so it begins. A calculated misrepresentation of what a true ‘None of the Above’ option would be, the deliberate association of it with ‘apathy’, ‘instability’ & ‘chaos’ – when in reality, NOTA has nothing to do with any of those things.

The bottom line is this: NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite. It is the ability to withhold consent at an election, consent being central to the concept of democracy but only measurable if it is possible to withhold it. NOTA is therefore an essential check and balance in any true democracy. To argue against it is to argue against democracy itself, once the concepts of democracy and consent are properly understood. For this reason, given that our leaders must always be seen to be pro-democracy (whether they really are or not), NOTA is achievable in the short to mid term – unlike most other touted reforms that are desirable but not central to the concept of democracy and so can be paid lip service to and ignored.

In the context of elections, the withholding of consent must be formal because voting (giving consent) is formal. Neither abstaining or ballot spoiling amount to formally withholding consent, as both can be construed as apathetic or anarchic wrecking options and neither affect the result in any way. An official NOTA option on the ballot paper, with formal consequences for the result if the majority choose it, is the only way to withhold consent formally at an election in a registered, meaningful way.

From there, the next question is: what would happen if NOTA ‘wins’? If implemented properly (unlike faux-NOTA in India and elsewhere), a NOTA ‘win’ must invalidate the result and trigger a new election. Most likely this would occur at constituency level, triggering by-elections. There is already a mechanism in place to deal with an MP dying, whereby a by-election has to be held within three months. Dealing with a NOTA ‘win’ might be as simple as evoking such a mechanism with the incumbent holding the fort in the meantime. In the event that NOTA came out on top nationally, there is no reason why the same principle could not apply.

At NOTA UK, we also have a proposal to avoid voter fatigue that involves lengthening the time period to between six months and a year with the second placed candidate taking office in the meantime purely on a caretaker basis. This would give the caretaker, who will still have polled well, an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of the job and it would also gives all other parties a chance to regroup and look at what went wrong. This proposal is just one possible solution to deal with the logistics of NOTA and is open to debate and adaptation. The important thing is that NOTA must be there, no matter what. It is democracy in action.

The purpose of NOTA is that it is not a wrecking option or something designed to cause instability. Nor does it in any way symbolise apathy. It is a way for the vast, currently voiceless army of politically aware but utterly disenfranchised voters to finally be heard. It is an essential check and balance that could trigger an organic cleaning up of politics as parties realise that they now have to appeal to many more voters, potential NOTA voters included (rather than just their core demographics) and actually mean it – or face permanent rejection at the ballot box. The upshot of this ought to be less and less people making use of the option over time as the parties adapt to the new landscape, giving people a reason to vote for them in the first place. Further democratic reform would also be that much more possible in a system with the principle of NOTA at its core.

The days of making do and voting for the ‘lesser of several evils’, that Andrew Marr is trying to suggest is as good as democracy gets in his article, are over. People have had enough. If true democracy is what the people want then that is what they shall have. The first step on that journey is to get an official NOTA option ‘with teeth’ on the ballot paper for all future UK elections.

Find out how you can support the cause and help us bring that about at www.notauk.org

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
24/03/15

Select Committee: CHECK! Next stop: The Electoral Commission (and its peculiar definitions…)

The parliamentary Political & Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC), thanks to successful lobbying from NOTA UK (and 71.8% of almost 16,000 responses to one of its survey questions in favour of NOTA) explicitly recommended in its February 2015 report on ‘voter engagement’ that the next government should hold a public consultation before May 2016 specifically on the issue of inclusion of a formal ‘None of the Above’ option on UK ballot papers for all future national elections.

Their cited reasons were a clear increase in public demand and the potential positive impact on engagement that NOTA could have.

In the past, NOTA has been perceived and portrayed by establishment parties and media as a lazy, negative cop out or a wrecking reform championed by a fringe minority of people. No doubt it will be again. But the PCRC’s recommendation and increasing mainstream coverage of and support for NOTA as a bona fide and necessary electoral reform in and of itself makes this position increasingly untenable for anyone clinging to it.

With that in mind, I will of course be writing to the seven main parties in the coming weeks to find out where they stand on NOTA in light of recent developments (watch this space!).

In the meantime, the next logical step seems to be to put pressure on the Electoral Commission (EC). So not long after the PCRC’s report was published, I contacted them to see where they currently stand on the issue of NOTA. I was eventually directed to pages 85 and 86 of their report on ‘Standing for Election in the UK’. It transpires that oddly, while their discussion of NOTA in the report acknowledges recent developments, the EC’s position has effectively not changed since 2003 and remains against introduction of NOTA on the grounds that, in their view:

“…the purpose of an election is to elect one of the nominated candidates to elected office. An election is about making a choice between the nominated candidates and expressly allowing for ‘positive abstention’ defeats that purpose and discourages voters from engaging with the candidates on offer.”

Clearly, this view does not stand up to scrutiny.

Firstly, the purpose of an election in a democracy is not solely to elect nominated candidates to office, it is primarily to facilitate accurate representation in government of the will of the electorate. If no candidate on offer fits that bill in the eyes of voters, then they should be able to formally reject all that is on offer. If a majority were to then choose to do so, a formal rejection would have taken place that would have to be officially acknowledged and acted upon, in the form of a re-run election with different (better…?) candidates. This is democracy in action.

Secondly, it is incorrect to define NOTA as ‘positive abstention’. I have made this mistake in the past myself. But I realise now that to do so is to misrepresent the concept utterly and here’s why.

Abstention is about non-participation. You abstain at a general election by either not registering to vote at all or by registering but not attending the polling station to vote. In votes and polls within certain organisations (the Electoral Reform Society, for example), you can also register your desire to abstain by ticking the relevant box on a ballot paper. But either way, abstaining like this can in no way affect the result of a poll. Even if the majority abstain, the vote is still carried and the candidate or proposal with the most votes wins.

Voting NOTA, clearly, is about active participation. Because, unlike abstaining, withholding consent and rejecting all candidates via a formal NOTA option (if implemented properly i.e.: with formalised consequences for the result if NOTA were to ‘win’) can always potentially impact on the result.

By conflating NOTA with the idea of abstention, albeit supposed ‘positive abstention’, the EC is in fact conflating it with the idea of non-participation. This is disingenuous to say the least – and not a position that I expect them to be able to hold for much longer!

With that in mind, I will be formally requesting that the EC revisit the issue of NOTA and alter their position in light of recent developments. Feel free to do the same via the contact form on their website: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/contact-us

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
18/03/15

‘Election Hacking’: What the Electoral Commission has to say

Followers of NOTA UK’s progress over the last couple of years will know that in the wider NOTA movement the issue is often raised of how best to draw attention to our shared goal of getting a formal None of the Above option on UK ballot papers, as well as the need for NOTA in any true democracy and the level of demand for it. With that in mind, I recently contacted the Electoral Commission to clear up a few questions and hopefully settle a few arguments.

There are a number of strategies that have either been proposed or are being actively pursued by groups and individuals apparently in the name of the NOTA cause. These include:

  • taking ballot papers home en masse
  • abstaining en masse
  • ballot spoiling en masse
  • standing candidates on a single issue NOTA platform

(DISCLAIMER:  While NOTA UK welcomes any action that could draw attention to our cause in a positive way and possibly further it, and while we would not seek to tell anyone else what to do, it does not, as an organisation, actively promote or endorse any of these strategies – for reasons that will hopefully become clear!)

The quotes below are all from an email conversation between myself and George Marshall, Communications and Public Information Officer at The Electoral Commission.

TAKING BALLOT PAPERS HOME EN MASSE

To get the ball rolling, I initially asked George whether taking ballot papers home was legal and if so what would happen if someone tried to do this. Here is his reply:

If a voter is issued with a ballot paper, there is a process set out in the election rules that should be followed. That is, the poll clerk issues the paper, hands it to the voter, the voter marks their paper, the poll clerk observes the voter putting the paper into the ballot box.

If the Presiding Officer (PO) is aware that a voter is leaving the station without putting the paper in the ballot box, the PO would be obliged to ask the voter to put the paper in the ballot box.

If the voter refuses and leaves, then the PO should mark the ballot paper account accordingly. This ensures that at verification there is an audit trail which can explain why there is not the same number of papers in the box as were issued […]

The phrase mark the ballot paper account accordingly’ just means that the Presiding Officer would note on the ballot paper account that a ballot paper had been removed by a voter from the polling station and not placed in the ballot box. The Presiding Officer would adjust the figures on the ballot paper account to show this so that at the count there would be an accurate tally of the number of ballot papers in the ballot box with the number stated on the ballot paper account.”

I then asked what would happen in the event that more people in a constituency took their ballot paper home than actually voted and whether this would have any effect on the result or not, informing him that my understanding is that it would not. His reply:

You are correct – this would not have any effect on the result.

In summary then, it is perfectly legal to attend the polling station with your polling card, collect your ballot paper and take it away instead of voting. This would be counted as a removed ballot, separate and distinct from all spoiled ballots, people who simply didn’t attend the polling station and people not registered to vote. As such, this strategy could arguably be seen as a solid way of manufacturing a way of unambiguously recording voter discontent.

However, regardless of how many people were to do this, it categorically cannot effect the election result in any way. As such, it would in no way simulate or act as a substitute for actual NOTA ‘with teeth’ (i.e.: formalised consequences for the result if it were to ‘win’).

ABSTAINING / SPOILING BALLOT PAPERS EN MASSE

The difference between either of these approaches and actual NOTA ‘with teeth’ is well documented on this site. In a nutshell, abstaining can be dismissed as voter apathy with no further analysis, while ballots spoiled in protest are lumped in with those spoiled in error for counting purposes, rendering the resulting figure meaningless as a measure of voter discontent. As such, neither of these approaches in any way simulates or acts as a substitute for actual NOTA ‘with teeth’. Some people believe, however, that if this were done in numbers it would in some way affect the result.

With that in mind, I asked George if my understanding that a majority of registered electors choosing to either not vote at all or spoil their ballot papers would have no effect on the result was correct. His reply:

“That is correct – this would not affect the result and the candidate with the most votes would still win.”

In summary then, not only does abstaining or spoiling the ballot paper in no way meaningfully register voter discontent, it absolutely cannot affect the result in any way, even if done in large numbers.

STANDING CANDIDATES ON A NOTA PLATFORM

This is also covered extensively elsewhere on this site. Suffice to say that forming a party or standing as an independent on any single issue, regardless of what it is, clearly only constitutes the addition of another ‘one of the above’ to the ballot paper and not a functioning NOTA option, as has been claimed by some. Proponents of adopting this strategy in the name of NOTA tend to fall into two camps:

1: Those who recognise it is as a symbolic gesture only and acknowledge that if elected any candidate standing on a NOTA platform ought really to step down immediately, thus simulating NOTA ‘with teeth’ and triggering a by-election.

2: Those who believe that if elected they would be able to push for NOTA from within Westminster whilst either remaining silent on all other issues or expanding beyond the single issue of NOTA into other political realms.

The problem of the latter approach is self-evident. Any campaign to get NOTA on the ballot box must, by definition, be politically neutral if it is to be taken seriously at all. Political parties with the prospect of being elected invariably attract people with agendas above and beyond the self-limiting remit of any campaign for a bona fide NOTA option.

The former approach, while making more sense, we have always seen as extremely risky and something that should only be considered as a last resort i.e: if we were still struggling to be heard in the run up to the election. If not enough people backed such an approach, the result would be a perceived lack of support for NOTA, potentially taking the campaign backwards. Indeed, this is true of all the ‘election hacking’ strategies outlined above – without the right level of support, each of them has the potential to backfire and undermine the NOTA campaign significantly.

CONCLUSION

As a result of NOTA UK’s lobbying and the general public getting involved in the fight, the parliamentary select committee for Political & Constitutional Reform (PCRC) were compelled to explicitly state in their recent report on increasing voter engagement that the next government should consult before May 2016 solely on the issue of NOTA’s possible inclusion on ballot papers.

This means that the hitherto seemingly impossible task of getting the urgent need and demand for NOTA on the UK government and wider public’s radar has now been achieved. As a result, we are now in the unprecedented position of being able to add our voice to the mainstream debate in the coming weeks and months. We also have a clear window of opportunity to embed the solid arguments for NOTA firmly in the public consciousness and put pressure on the next government to adhere to the PCRC’s recommendation – without having to resort to gimmicks or risky strategies such as those outlined above.

For this reason, there is no need for NOTA UK to endorse or get behind any of the above approaches as we are already very much on track to making NOTA a reality.

That said, supporters of the NOTA cause are of course free to do as they see fit on election day. If you feel that any of these approaches represents a way of expressing your disdain for the current political landscape and your support for NOTA, then you must do what makes sense to you. All we would ask is that any organised groups or campaigns make clear that they are separate and distinct from NOTA UK and that they endeavour to reinforce, rather than detract from, the solid arguments for NOTA that we are making and will continue to make.

That being the case, and all being well, there is absolutely no reason why future generations will not one day be found scratching their heads in amazement at the very idea of ‘None of the Above’ NOT being on the ballot paper.

Onwards & Upwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
02/03/15

The ‘NOTA would help establishment parties’ fallacy

During my recent interview for RT’s Going Underground, host Afshin Rattansi asked a question along the lines of: ‘But wouldn’t NOTA just take votes away from smaller parties and help establishment parties?’

This is a common concern that is often cited by critics of NOTA, but one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny in my view. There wasn’t quite enough time for me to expand upon my answer at the time so I thought I’d post a short blog on the subject.

Firstly, NOTA has the potential to take votes away from all parties, not just the smaller ones. Currently, there are plenty of people who grudgingly or tactically vote Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour as they see them as the lesser of several evils. There are also people who vote UKIP or Green more as a protest against the main parties rather than out of genuine support. All of these voters could find a bona fide, binding NOTA option ‘with teeth’ more appropriate. All of these parties do of course enjoy genuine support also. One could argue that, in the current climate, fledgling smaller parties enjoy more genuine support than the increasingly discredited bigger ones. So I see no reason to believe that smaller parties would suffer more than bigger ones if NOTA were in place.

Secondly, when people talk about ‘letting establishment parties in’, I have to wonder what electoral system they are talking about. The bigger parties ALWAYS get in. The UK’s voting system absolutely ensures that. The plain fact of the matter is that no amount of green surge or support for UKIP is going to alter the fact that the next government will be Conservative or Labour in practice, even if they are in coalition with smaller parties, rendered essentially cosmetic by corporate lobbying and the party / government whip systems. So even if NOTA were to favour the big two, which there is no reason to believe it would, how would that be any different to what we have now?

The bottom line is that NOTA has the potential to inflict damage on ALL parties equally and as such would act as a leveller, forcing them all to lift their game, appeal to more voters and actually mean what they say.

This is all theoretical of course, as real NOTA ‘with teeth’ has never been tried. But an absence of real world data should never be an impediment to progress. If it were, none of the great leaps forward for humanity would  ever have got off the ground. As I always say to doubters, let’s get NOTA on the ballot paper and see what happens. What have we got to lose?

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
15/02/15

Watch the full Going Underground interview here:

Sign our 38 Degrees Petition here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/NOTA-UK

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An open letter to Emma Rome, formerly of NOTA UK

My former NOTA UK partner in crime Emma Rome recently published a blog post which, although of no real significance to our ongoing campaign, certainly warrants a response from me “in my own way” for reasons that will hopefully become clear:

“Dear Emma,

I note that you chose not to mention in your blog how, when challenged to justify your publicly declared,  inexplicable and seemingly wilfully inaccurate reading of my ‘Unity & Focus’ blog post, you threatened to, and I quote, ‘assassinate our campaign’ in an online NOTA debate the following week.

You then claimed that this impulsive, pm’d missive was ‘a satirical joke’, but it was clearly nothing of the kind. It was a momentary lapse of control that laid bare a side to you that I was shocked to discover existed, one that clearly is not compatible with a pro-democracy reform campaign like NOTA UK’s. Having already left voluntarily, there was no need for me to ask you to leave and very obviously no chance of me allowing you back in, despite you asking me repeatedly.

I also note your attempts to imply 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 and mine alone as you claim. It is, and always has been, open to debate and modification as the campaign develops and as our legitimacy grows.

Last week I appeared on a live RT UK news bulletin talking about NOTA and was asked back six days later to record a full interview for one of their flagship shows Going Underground, due to be broadcast next week. This was aided somewhat by the fact that in the same week, thanks to our lobbying, the select committee looking into ‘voter engagement’ explicitly stated in its report that due to public demand and the potential positive impact of having it, the next government should hold a public consultation on NOTA’s inclusion on the ballot paper.

Clearly, this signifies that our campaign is working and that we are at a crucial moment. The last thing the campaign needs right now is people jockeying for position and causing problems within the established front of the wider NOTA movement. So in a way, I’m grateful that you did what you did when you did, rather than further down the line at a potentially more damaging time.

I wish you no ill Emma. But your attempts to take the moral high ground on this issue serve only to underline why it is no longer possible for you and I to work together.

Thank you for your help over the last couple of years. Good luck in all your future endeavours, your clear political ambitions included.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
13/02/15

Democracy Audit: Why NOTA is the Ground Zero of Electoral Reform

On the 8th January 2015, NOTA UK member Rohin Vadera had an article published on the website Democracy Audit making the case for NOTA.

Two weeks later, Richard Berry, Research Associate for the Democracy Audit website and the London School of Economics Public Policy Group, responded with an article rebutting NOTA and citing three other reforms he deemed more important.

Here NOTA UK founder Jamie Stanley responds to Berry’s article:

“Why NOTA is the Ground Zero of Electoral Reform”

GUEST ARTICLE: ‘Time for None of the Above’ by Chris Ogden, lecturer in International Relations at the University of St Andrews.

Time for None of the Above

To foster accountability and restore our right to dissent, we need another option on the ballot paper.

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A polling station in Suffolk – don’t all rush at once.

(Flickr/Blue Square Thing. Some rights reserved.)

As Scotland’s recent Independence Referendum showed, a large proportion of the population can be successfully engaged in, and passionate about politics.  Yet whilst the number of political parties offering their services appears to be significantly expanding – along with the scope of electorate choice – the fundamental option to reject all possible candidates in an accountable manner, remains absent.  Such a re-buffal – for reasons such as uncertainty, dissent or apathy – is currently tied to a more fundamental rejection; that of our right as citizens to legitimately take part in fair and free elections, in which each of our voices, no matter the persuasion, carry equal weight and importance.

Our present participation is limited.  Saying “no”, “don’t know” or “don’t care” are essentially illegitimate choices in Britain’s current election procedures.  They are also viewpoints that – when held – systematically disenfranchise large segments of our population.  Instead of respecting all opinions, our system demands conformity to historically dominant and simplified groupings.  This inherently limits electoral choice and shuts off possibilities for progress, evolution and improvement.  It also results in a loaded and skewed response by voters to the limited options available, whilst diminishing the value of the dissenting public’s voice.  Far from celebrating diversity and complexity, our system seeks to streamline debate, limit our participation in it and rests upon the population’s tacit acquiescence to Britain’s prevailing political consensus.

Broadening our options

As Susan Harrison noted on openDemocracy some years ago, what is so illegitimate about a voter who would “like to register the fact that I have taken the trouble to vote, have thought about things, and yet (found that) there isn’t really anybody whose opinions represent mine”?  Simply not agreeing with those in power, or with those putting themselves forward for political office, should not be considered invalid.  At the very least, “not being able to agree” ought to be acknowledged, accurately recorded and taken as a barometer on the legitimacy of a political class that ostensibly represents the whole population.  Presently, voters are only left with the ability to spoil their ballot, which provides no measure of actual voter discontent and can be dismissed by political elites as an act carried out in error or misunderstanding.

The inclusion of an official “None of the Above” (NOTA) option on all ballot papers can help restore our right to contribute, our right to be heard and our right to dissent.  Such efforts will re-invigorate Britain’s democratic tradition, and promote elements central to it, including heightening electoral participation, inclusion and accountability.  It will also help to increase the people’s power to press for change through the ballot box, bolster our ability to demand better quality politicians – as Democrat contenders recently experienced in Nevada when they were all rejected in favour of a ‘None of These Candidates’ option – and boost electoral turnout, the decline of which is an engrained negative dimension of politics in modern Britain.

As Graham Allen MP has noted, “turnout for the last general election was only 65% – almost 16 million voters chose not to participate – and millions of people are not even registered to vote … this is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy”.  The percentage of those voting has fallen dramatically since 1950, when voter turnout across the UK was 84%, and the country enjoyed a high level of political participation and involvement.  Now, when 65% of an electorate votes, a party only needs 33% of the electorate to claim a majority and mandate to govern – hardly the hallmark of a healthy democracy.

Stop being afraid of democracy

Beyond this equation, current voter apathy has clear electoral advantages for those in power.  Rather than needing to get the entire population galvanized behind a set of core political beliefs, the contemporary politician secures victory by targeting a small number of swing voters identified via focus groups.  Low voter turnout makes the number of these critical voters even smaller.  NOTA would act as a significant performance indicator for politicians, whose power rests upon electoral calculation rather than full electoral engagement.  For the dedicated MPs who fully represent their constituents (and who are not moonlighting with a second job – a notable contemporary trend), a low NOTA turnout could be a noteworthy validation of their role as a community servant.

Importantly, change appears to be afoot for democracy in Britain and its constituent parts.  At the beginning of December, the UK Parliament’s Political Constitution and Reform Committee asked the public for their views concerning how to improve electoral engagement.  Apart from suggestions to lower the voting age to 16 (which will occur in the 2016 Holyrood elections), electronic voting, compulsory voting and holding elections at weekends, their online survey also asks whether ‘None of the Above’ should be an official option on the ballot paper.  Whether you agree, disagree or don’t know, taking part in the survey can be the first step to making all of our democratic voices reheard.  And for politicians opposed to having a “None of the Above” option, it is time to stop being afraid of democracy, and to accept your public accountability.

Originally published on openDemocracy.net Republished with permission.

Open Letter to Mark Flanagan (Notavote / The NOTA Party / The Above & Beyond Party)

Like Dr. Who and Sam Beckett, the group formerly known as Notavote and The NOTA Party has apparently once again morphed into a seemingly different entity. There is now an ‘Above & Beyond Party’ that intends to pick up where they left off after being barred from standing by the Electoral Commission. Below is my open letter to Mark Flanagan, the apparent head honcho. Feel free to share.

***UPDATE*** Apparently, Above & Beyond is in fact Mark Flanagan’s separate, further offshot from Notavote / The NOTA Party… which makes it even worse! Original letter edited slightly to make more sense in light of this.


Dear Mark,

Since its inception in 2012, Adrian Langan’s Notavote / The NOTA Party (now aided and abetted by your offshoot Above & Beyond Party) has consistently sought to cancel out and replace NOTA UK as the primary group campaigning for a formal None of the Above option on UK ballot papers for all future elections.

This is in spite of NOTA UK pre-dating their efforts by two whole years and in spite of the significant progress we have made towards getting NOTA in place for real since our inception in 2010.

Notavote / NOTA party members inadvertent (or concerted, depending on your view point) efforts to undermine the credibility of NOTA in the past have included:

– claiming that their party’s presence on the ballot paper constituted a bonafide NOTA option when it clearly didn’t,

– lying about their origins and claiming to have been set up in 2007 in order to get the jump on us,

– allowing known far right agitators to infiltrate their facebook group at an admin level,

– bullying and ejecting their own members if they spoke up for NOTA UK,

– and, of course, publicly attacking my own personal credibility at various times along the way.

They were recently prevented from standing candidates on a supposedly NOTA platform next May by the Electoral Commission on the grounds that the party name could have confused voters into thinking it is already possible to vote for None of the Above when it isn’t. This deception is in fact exactly what members of the group, a group that you yourself were at the time a part of, had attempted to do.

Your group’s reaction to this news was to encourage your supporters to believe that the banning was the result of a conspiracy to prevent NOTA appearing on the ballot paper. (NOTA UK’s response to this can be seen here: https://nota-uk.org/2014/11/08/nota-banned-as-party-name-by-electoral-commission/ )

I later appealed via our NOTA UK blog for you to finally put this perceived split to bed by publicly endorsing our campaign and acknowledging that your efforts must now be, and always should have been, in support of our campaign rather than in competition to it (see here: https://nota-uk.org/2014/11/28/appeal-to-reason-and-logic-re-the-nota-party/ )

There was no response.

Instead, you have now taken it upon yourself to re-brand the idea as The Above & Beyond Party, identical to its predecessor in all but name, and restated your intention to stand single issue NOTA candidates next May, now complete with a set of proposals to deal with a NOTA ‘win’, once in place, that run directly contrary to NOTA UK proposals that have been formally presented to a parliamentary select committee and accepted into the public record.

So – with all this in mind, please answer the following questions:

1: There is a parliamentary select committee survey and public consultation running until January 9th 2015 that invites members of the public to put forward their views on a set of proposed electoral reforms, including (thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying) inclusion of an official None of the Above option on the ballot paper. (Survey: http://tinyurl.com/octv8r3 Consultation: http://tinyurl.com/oxboqy4 )

Why have you not mentioned this in your campaign material or made any effort to alert your supporters to this crucial, landmark change of attitude in the corridors of power towards NOTA?

2: Your proposal as to what would happen in the event of a NOTA ‘win’, aside from being completely unworkable, flies in the face of the solid proposal to deal with such a scenario that we have been promoting for years now and that the afore mentioned committee has accepted into the public record. (See here: http://tinyurl.com/mcqywys )

Are you purposely trying to undermine and cancel out the good work and massive progress towards NOTA for real that NOTA UK have achieved in the last four years? And if so, why? In whose interests are you acting, if not all who want to see NOTA on the ballot paper?

These are legitimate questions Mark. Because nothing that you or Adrian are doing is in any way aiding the cause that we supposedly share. By constantly presenting yourself as THE None of the Above movement, complete with strategies and proposals that fly directly in the face of our formally established ones, all you are doing is making all those campaigning for NOTA look like they don’t know what they are doing.

But we do know what we are doing.

The real question is: what exactly are you playing at?

I eagerly await your response.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
10/12/14