Tag Archives: Progress

‘Vote Blanc’ vs NOTA

voteblanc

At the 2017 French presidential election, a record number of people made use of the ‘vote blanc’ option, a way of rejecting all candidates put forward at the ballot box.


This rise occurred in conjunction with the lowest overall turnout in a French presidential election for nearly fifty years. Clearly, more people than ever felt that the candidates on offer represented a Hobson’s Choice that many could not bring themselves to make and chose either to stay at home, spoil the ballot paper or cast a blank vote.

From our point of view, while this is telling, it’s very important to realise that the ‘vote blanc’ option in France is very different from the formal and binding ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option we are proposing should be added to ballot papers in the UK, and indeed all countries.

The crucial words are ‘formal’ and ‘binding’. Currently, blank votes in French elections are not counted as valid votes. They are counted, but not in a way that can ever affect the election result. For this reason, while they are seen as distinct from spoiled ballots (which can of course be counted as spoiled in error), they are no more useful as a measure of voter discontent in reality.

In order to be truly meaningful, any option that allows a voter to register their rejection of all that is on offer and withhold their consent at an election MUST be formal and binding, as the act of endorsing / consenting by voting is formal and binding. It MUST be counted as a valid vote and, if applicable, be able to void the result and trigger a second election if it ‘wins’.

At NOTA UK we are campaigning for just such a formal and binding NOTA option and nothing less. We have made representations to parliament and are actively lobbying the Green Party of England & Wales to promote their currently low key policy of getting RON (Re-Open Nominations) on ballot papers to centre stage in their manifesto for the upcoming UK general election. We have also suggested that they commit to using the more self-explanatory NOTA acronym and adopt our proposals for dealing with the logistics of a NOTA ‘win’.

Mechanisms like ‘Vote Blanc’ and an increase in people using them is a significant step in the right direction. But until such time as they can materially effect the election result, they remain examples of faux-NOTA or NOTA-lite, symbolic token gestures that do nothing to empower those disillusioned enough with the political system to want to formally reject all candidates and parties put forward at election time.

You can support our campaign for formal, binding NOTA in the UK by following the links below and signing our petition:

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NOTA UK website

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
08/05/17

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Open Letter to the Green Party re: GE 2017

Dear Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley,

I wrote to you last year, and then again in reply to your response, but have yet to receive a further response from you. In your first reply, Caroline stated:

“…the Green Party fully backs having a “re-open nominations” (RON) option on the ballot paper and I’d agree that a “none of the above” (NOTA) option is in the same spirit. It’s not possible for us to campaign on everything and I don’t think we’ll be doing anything proactive on this in the immediate future, but I’ll let the campaigns coordinators know about the open letter and your calls.”

I’m writing to you again now as it strikes me that with a snap general election coming up and talk of progressive alliances (that could, in theory, see the Green party forming part of a coalition government after June 8th) the time may well be now for you to do something proactive on the issue of NOTA / RON.

If you were to bring your NOTA / RON policy out of the shadows and in to the limelight, putting it at the heart of your election manifesto, this would, in my view, not only do wonders for our cause but also be a sure vote winner for your party among those who would dearly love to see a formal and binding NOTA option on ballot papers in the future.

I sincerely believe that to not do this at this time would be to miss a trick.

I also still feel strongly that the policy would carry more weight with the general public if you reworded it favouring the often used and self-explanatory NOTA acronym over the more jargonistic RON.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this and hopefully taking an important step forward with you towards real electoral reform in the UK at this upcoming election.

Your sincerely,
Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
29/04/17

NOTA CAMPAIGN: 2017 General Election Strategy

NB: This is a hastily arrived at assessment of the state of play. More detail to follow!


So, the largely meaningless binary ‘choice’ season has been brought forward with Theresa May’s announcement of a snap general election on June 8th 2017. As with any election, this will inevitably lead to increased interest in our campaign to get a formal and binding None of the Above (NOTA) option on UK ballot papers. It therefore presents an opportunity to further establish the urgent need for electoral reform as a mainstream talking point in the coming weeks.

So here’s my initial strategy thoughts from a NOTA point of view. Clearly, the chances of getting NOTA on ballot papers by June are zero and we will need to take the fight to the next government. As I see it, with the First Past The Post system being what it is, there are only really four possible outcomes at the upcoming election with some more likely than others:

1: A Tory government, either with a majority or as a minority government – LIKELY
2: A Labour government, either with a majority or as a minority government – LESS LIKELY
3: A coalition government with the Tories in the driving seat – POSSIBLE
4: A coalition government with Labour in the driving seat – POSSIBLE

Neither an outright Tory government or a Labour government are likely to be open to the idea of introducing NOTA any time soon. Currently, the only pro-NOTA party in a position to possibly end up in power in some small way after June 8th is the Green party, who have an official policy to get a form of NOTA (RON – Re-Open Nominations) on ballot papers. Clearly, the Green’s are not in a position to win the election outright and form a government.

So from our point of view, the best possible strategy, it seems to me, would be to support the so-called ‘progressive alliance’ with a view to getting a ‘rainbow coalition’ government with the Greens and others in a position to influence the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party.

With that in mind, I propose that NOTA UK and its supporters spend the coming days and weeks:

a) lobbying the Green party to bring their pro-NOTA policy to the forefront of their manifesto, rather than hide it in the shadows as they have up to now, in order to show that they mean business when it comes to electoral reform and representing the currently silent majority

b) lobby the Labour party to commit to the progressive alliance being put forward and

c) lobby all other parties that could possibly wind up in a ‘rainbow coalition’ government to publicly declare where they stand on the issue of NOTA and electoral reform in general.

As stated, this is a swiftly arrived at strategy for the benefit of those asking what our plans are. Much more detail and rationale to follow! Feel free to share.


NOTA UK is a volunteer run organisation, if you’d like to donate to our campaign you can do so via the paypal button at the top right of this page. For an overview of our campaign and its aims check out our explainer videos.

You can also support the campaign for formal, binding NOTA in the UK by following the links below and signing our petition:

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NOTA UK website

Onwards & Upwards!

Jamie Stanley
Founder NOTA UK
20/04/2017

Trump: Don’t despair, don’t get angry – get wise and organise!

https://notaukdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/41351-6a00d83451bc8b69e2019aff686334970c.jpg?w=649&h=649

An estimated 55.6% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 US election that saw Donald Trump elected as the next US president. That is an abysmal turnout, but an entirely understandable one, given the state of the candidates and the level of debate in the run up.


It also transpires that Clinton, much like Gore in 2000, won the popular vote nationwide but, due to the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system and the vagaries of the 100 year old electoral college system, lost out when it came to securing the all important 270 delegates.

Naturally, there is now much belated talk, again, of electoral reform and the ‘state of democracy’ and, inevitably, the focus has fallen on efforts to introduce a more proportional voting system. This is a red herring plan, in my view, that would involve tearing up a tried and tested system that directly benefits the two main parties of power and that can always be presented by them as ‘democratic enough’, even if plenty of people disagree.

But there is a much simpler, much more achievable and much more immediately transformative reform staring everybody in the face. One that actually already exists in some form in the US, setting out a clear precedent and an opportunity for expansion.

Does anybody truly believe that many of those who turned out and voted for Trump or Clinton, having opted for the perceived lesser of two evils, did not do so through gritted teeth? We’ll never know how many for sure, but I’m willing to bet that a great many of them would instead have made use of a formal & binding ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on the ballot paper / voting machine had one been available.

It also stands to reason then, that many more of the over 100 million who didn’t vote at all would surely have considered doing so if they’d had the opportunity to formally tell all candidates and parties where to go in a way that could’ve affected the result if enough people had chosen to do so.

One US state, Nevada, already has a form of NOTA, but unfortunately it is a non-binding kind of faux-NOTA that cannot in any way affect the result and is therefore of little interest to disillusioned voters, some of whom are campaigning for it to be made binding and extended across the rest of the US. This is an initiative that we must whole heartedly support.

In my view, there is absolutely no rational argument for keeping a formal, binding NOTA option off the ballot paper in a world where pseudo-fascist populism and yet more neoliberal Wall Street / City of London puppetry are the only available options (if you agree, please help us to help you by signing this petition on the 38 degrees website and sharing this post).

But we cannot make this argument and take it to the mainstream without serious numbers and serious support. I have, more than once, tried to impress upon various organisations such as 38 Degrees, Make Votes Matter, Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform Society the importance of our campaign and why NOTA should be the priority of all progressives and democratic reformists.

Surely this point has now been made beyond all doubt. Donald Trump is the next US President, after all. Have another go at trying to let that sink in for a minute.

NOTA, properly implemented, is a democratic pre-requisite, representing as it does the essential ability to be able to formally withhold consent and reject all that is on offer at an election, if deemed necessary, in a way that can affect the result if enough people do it. This mechanism, in its fully fledged form, is currently absent both in the US, the UK and indeed everywhere, when it should be central to any and all systems claiming to be truly democratic. When understood this way, you cannot argue against it and still be pro-democracy, meaning that all the while there is a need to present the various systems we have as paragons of democracy, NOTA is 100% achievable.

A form of NOTA is already UK Green Party policy. We now need to get this essential, transformative reform seriously recognised and firmly on the table across the board. In my view, as a matter of urgency.

With this in mind, I implore anyone reading this to familiarise yourself with the current state of play and recent articles on our website and start the all important conversations with your friends and families about how coming together and campaigning for NOTA presents a golden opportunity for us all to meaningfully push things forward at this critical time.

Again, you can support the campaign for formal, binding NOTA in the UK by following the links below and signing our petition:

Facebook
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NOTA UK website

If you live in the US, you can support and help draw attention to the need for a formal, binding NOTA option on ballot papers here.

Onwards & Upwards.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
09/11/16

 

A Trip to Trump-Ton: US Elections & NOTA

radiohead

The need for a formal, binding ‘None of the Above’ option (NOTA) has surely never been more apparent than when watching the farcical 2016 US election campaign.


I mean, seriously. A nation of over 300 million people, and the only two in the running for the top job are Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton. A racist, misogynistic, hate preaching, billionaire demagogue versus a warmongering, morally bankrupt, fully paid up member of the Wall Street clique. That’s it. And with not a single credible alternative party or candidate in the running that won’t just split the vote and ensure victory for one of the main two.

It is, quite literally, ridiculous.

And yet people in their millions, around the world, people who can’t even vote, are dutifully falling in line with the tired, media prescribed ‘lesser of two evils’ thinking. As if either of these people are not destined to just be figureheads in an out of control corporate oligarchy masquerading as a democracy. See here:

The Transformation of American Democracy to Oligarchy

This lazy, binary, context free thinking is embarrassing for all concerned. But it always happens. You could put Ted Bundy and Charles Manson up against each other for the job of leading us all over the cliff and people would immediately start rationalising which one is the least worst.

Only now, this time – SURELY! – the toxic, terrible problem of oligarchy masquerading as democracy is there for all to see, no?

People should be on the streets DEMANDING their democratic right to formally withhold their consent and reject all that is on offer via a formal, binding NOTA option. It is absolutely essential to be able to do this in any true democracy. And all the while the oligarchy is bound to disguise itself as a true democracy, it stands to reason that the case for the democratic pre-requisite of NOTA can be made. And won.

There is even precedent to back this up in the US. The state of Nevada has had a form of NOTA on ballot papers since 1975. There is now a campaign to extend this nationwide. See here:

The problem with it, as with every existing form of NOTA currently, is that it is non-binding and can in no way affect the result. Not even if it attracts the most votes, as it did in Nevada in a 2014 Democrat party primary. See here:

Nevada Democrats pick ‘None of these candidates’ for governor

What this means, in practice, is that this is in fact faux-NOTA, a kind of informal token gesture. This of course does nothing to inspire or engage disillusioned voters and accounts for the usually fairly low take up for this form of NOTA where it exists. And yet, in 2014 it still ‘beat’ every actual candidate in Nevada, and by quite a margin.

As a result, many Nevada voters now want to see NOTA expanded ‘so that if it came in first, the election would be declared invalid and a new election would be quickly called in which none of the candidates who lost to NOTA would be eligible to run again’.

Surely then, it stands to reason that a formal, binding, nationwide NOTA option, not just in the US but here in the UK and indeed anywhere, would have the power to transform the corrupted politics of oligarchy masquerading as democracy into something infinitely more democratic. As the National Review article above reports:

“…if NOTA came close to winning, even the most entrenched incumbents might be forced to reconsider their positions and inject some needed humility into their thinking. Adding NOTA to the ballot might also improve the nation’s abysmal voter turnout. NOTA might even discourage highly negative campaigning, because candidates would be running for the approval of voters, not just to offend fewer people than their opponents do. When confronted with the option of bad versus worse, NOTA would allow people to say, “Give me a better choice.” Isn’t that one of the things that America’s democracy should be about?”

Choosing wisely – not just choosing between but also choosing to reject all that is on offer if necessary – is in fact the singularly most important aspect of any true democracy. Never before has the absence of this essential democratic right been more glaring than it is as millions of US citizens prepare to make what has to be the most absurd Hobson’s Choice in human history.

You can support the campaign for formal, binding NOTA in the UK by following the links below and signing our petition:

Facebook
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YouTube
NOTA UK website

If you live in the US, you can support and help draw attention to the need for a formal, binding NOTA option on ballot papers here.

Onwards & Upwards.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
07/11/16

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Response to our open letter to Caroline Lucas

So I finally received a reply to our open letter to Caroline Lucas of the Green Party of England and Wales. Here it is with my response:

“Dear Jamie,

Thank you for getting in touch and apologies for not replying sooner – I get a lot of correspondence and give priority to that from my constituents.

As you know, the Green Party fully backs having a “re-open nominations” option on the ballot paper and I’d agree that a “none of the above” option is in the same spirit. It’s not possible for us to campaign on everything and I don’t think we’ll be doing anything proactive on this in the immediate future, but I’ll let the campaigns coordinators know about the open letter and your calls.

In terms of changing policy, that’s done by members and the policy coordinators, copied in above, should be able to tell you whether there’s ever been any proposals along these lines.

Best wishes, Caroline”
—————————————————————————————–

“Dear Caroline,

Thank you for your reply.

A couple of things, firstly Re-Open Nominations and NOTA are more or less the same thing, my issue with the current Green Party policy is that to many RON will be seen as a needlessly technical and jargonistic term, the preserve of political parties, student unions and the like. Most voters, as you know, are not necessarily members of such groups and generally like things to be simplified as much as possible. RON would constantly need explaining, where as None of the Above is a recognised, self-explanatory phrase. For this reason, we feel strongly that the wording of the policy should be changed so that it is clear that the proposed reform is a formal, binding NOTA option, perhaps with RON in brackets, it could then go on to explain what is meant by RON for the avoidance of doubt.

Secondly, it is clear from your response that NOTA/RON, while recognised as necessary, is not a priority for the Green Party. I feel strongly that this is missing a trick. As outlined in the open letter, there are solid, irrefutable reasons why NOTA is the logical starting point for full democratisation of a plainly undemocratic electoral system such as the UK’s.

In a true democracy, it is essential to be able to formally withhold consent at an election, as voting is the formal giving of consent and consent is only measurable if it is possible to withhold it in an equally impactful way. NOTA is the only way to do this, as ballot spoiling / abstaining are informal acts that can in no way affect the result. NOTA would therefore be achievable, in the short to mid term, with enough widespread understanding of this fact and support for it among the general public, as it is not possible to argue against a democratic pre-requisite without arguing against the concept of democracy itself. As undemocratic as the Westminster elites are in practice, they can never be seen to be. Therefore, all it would take to get NOTA in place would be for some mainstream politicians and parties to come out in favour of it and join us in making the case for it in a high profile way. From that point, NOTA would become inevitable. There is also quite probably a legal case to be made for inclusion of NOTA (see here: https://nota-uk.org/…/guest-blog-is-nota-a-legal-requireme…/ )

The same cannot be said of PR, because as desirable a democratic improvement as it may be, it simply cannot ever be argued that PR is a democratic pre-requisite in a system where securing a mandate hinges on seat share, not vote share. In my view, it does not matter how many high profile parties and people are calling for PR, if the party in power benefits directly from FPTP, as is always the case because of the very nature of FPTP, why on earth would they do anything other than pay lip service to calls for a new voting system then ultimately ignore them?

They would not be able to do this if NOTA were the ’cause célèbre’, for the reasons stated. Once in place, a post-NOTA electoral system would be much easier to reform and improve with additional changes such as PR.

If full democratisation of the UK system is the aim, rather than just figuring out how to get one’s own party into power or the continued justification of one’s organisation and funding (ERS, for example), then campaigning for NOTA has to be the start point. Any mainstream political party with the courage and foresight to acknowledge this and get behind our campaign fully would be making history. Until that happens, the issue of electoral reform is likely to continue going round in circles as it has done for decades.

Again, I would be more than happy to consult with policy makers on this issue with a view to making NOTA a central plank of any future Green Party manifesto.

Yours sincerely,
Mr J Stanley
NOTA UK
26/09/2016″

The “NOTA = Tory government” Fallacy

One of the most prevailing myths that comes up time and again when talking to people who oppose inclusion of a formal ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers, is the idea that it would somehow ensure a victory for the Tories every time if implemented in the UK.


This argument is flawed on a number of levels.

Firstly, and most importantly, it fails to acknowledge what NOTA represents. NOTA is the ability to formally withhold consent and reject all that is on offer at an election. It is essential to be able to do this in any true democracy. I have written at length about why NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite, how there is currently no similar formal mechanism in the UK and why NOTA is therefore achievable many times before. (If you disagree with any of these premises I would politely suggest that you follow the hyperlinks, to begin with, and re-examine your understanding of consent in relation to voting and democracy!).

Once it has been accepted that NOTA is 100% essential in any true democracy, it becomes impossible to argue against it without arguing against true democracy itself, no matter what form your opposition to it takes. Essentially, if you are truly pro-democracy, then you have to also be pro-NOTA, if both concepts are properly understood, even if you perceive its presence on the ballot box as unhelpful in terms of what you want to see happen at an election. To oppose NOTA and claim to be pro-democracy is, quite clearly, a contradiction in terms.

The second problem with the ‘NOTA = Tory government’ argument is that it assumes that the biggest problem with our system of government and electoral system is the prospect of it delivering a Tory government in the first place. It isn’t.

The problem is neo-liberalism and the corporate oligarchy masquerading as democracy that it inevitably leads to. The differences between a future ‘Blairite’ New Labour government and a traditional Tory one would be negligible at best. If we’ve learned anything from Tony Blair’s experiment it should be that.

The prospect of Jeremy Corbyn going into a general election, having successfully transformed the Labour party into something anti-neo-liberalism and genuinely progressive, certainly makes things interesting. If this occurred, many of the millions of politically engaged but disillusioned people in the UK, who would otherwise abstain, spoil their ballots in disgust or formally vote NOTA if they could, would undoubtedly vote Labour and probably swing the election. I can understand then, from that point of view, the logic of not having anything on the ballot that could take votes away from Corbyn and prevent this happening, even if the absence of NOTA remains completely undemocratic.

But how likely is that scenario really? Assuming Corbyn hangs on to the leadership and leads Labour into a general election, what are the chances, honestly, of him genuinely having transformed the Labour party by then, and by extension, the way that a UK government goes about its business?

The status quo in the UK has prevailed for the longest time. It is much more likely that his power as Prime Minister, in a system that will still be set up primarily to facilitate a corporate oligarchy masquerading as a democracy, would be severely limited at best. The extent to which the enemies of all that Corbyn represents, even within his own party, have gone to undermine him and prevent Labour from evolving thus far speaks volumes. It is reasonable to assume that they intend to persevere and ramp up their opposition the closer he gets to becoming Prime Minister – and beyond.

In a true democracy, of course, this would not matter. Those enemies would not have any power in the first place, having been filtered out by a democratic process that allows for true manifestation of the will of the people administered by community minded, qualified representatives only.

But the UK system is categorically NOT a true democracy. It will remain a corporate oligarchy masquerading as one, regardless of who is seen to be in power in Westminster, all the while the electoral system and the system of government it underpins are specifically designed with that in mind.

Just as likely, if not more so, as Corbyn getting into power only to find himself shackled to an immovable, fundamentally corrupted system, is the prospect of him being ousted one way or another before then and replaced with a ‘business as usual’ neo-liberal candidate, alienating all those who would otherwise have been compelled to vote expecting real change. At which point, we will all be back to square one.

It is not good enough to simply play along with apparent developments and hope for the best.

In order to fully democratise the UK system of government, or any corrupt system of government, the general public first need to remove powerful, vested interests from politics altogether and ensure that their elected representatives, who have the power to make and repeal legislation, are truly qualified, community spirited people only.

Many would say this is an impossible task and that some kind of compromise is in order. But this flies in the face of systems thinking. If a system is failing to deliver its officially stated purpose – in this case, truly democratic governance (we all know that isn’t the aim, but that is how it is officially presented) – it must be made fit for purpose i.e. significantly reformed or replaced. Continuing to engage with the failing system as it is and expecting a different result is clearly madness.

The ‘go to’ reform that comes to mind at this point for most people in the UK is Proportional Representation (PR). I have spoken and written at length elsewhere about why I consider this to be a red herring. That is not to say that PR is not a desirable improvement or that the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system isn’t deeply flawed. It is simply a question of what is, and isn’t, achievable in the current corrupted paradigm.

Even with PR in place – unlikely to happen any time soon in my view – it would essentially be a compromise with an already totally corrupted system, rather than a way of getting to the root of the problem. The enemies of true democracy might be hampered by PR, but they certainly wouldn’t be defeated.

The question, then, is what does get to the root of the problem? The answer (as I’m sure you were expecting!) is NOTA.

Because NOTA, if implemented properly, would be a way of completely undermining the control that various agents of oligarchy, both inside and outside Westminster, currently have.

The very prospect of a party or candidate coming second to more people rejecting everything on offer would, in time, organically level the playing field, as no party will want to take that risk. It would be far too damaging and embarrassing, they would have no choice but to understand and engage with NOTA voters and put forward appropriate candidates with appropriate policies and, crucially, mean what they say or face blanket rejection next time around at the ballot box.

For this reason, providing the option to formally reject all that is on offer to millions of non-voters, not to mention the millions more who tend to vote begrudgingly for the lesser of several evils at elections (including many Tory voters), in a way that would affect the result if a majority did so (by triggering by-elections and/or a re-run general election if NOTA ever ‘won’) would be a truly transformative step – and that’s before anyone has even cast a vote. From there, all manner of further democratic reform would be that much more possible. Without it, it is difficult to see how or why anything will significantly change for the better.

Crucially, the reform of NOTA is achievable, as I alluded to earlier and have spoken about at length elsewhere. It remains, therefore, the logical starting point and leverage point for all reformists and progressives genuinely wanting to transform a corrupt system of corporate oligarchy into a true democracy.

CONCLUSION:

The problem is not the Tories, or the ‘Blairites’ or even the fact that our electoral system favours two main parties over all others. The problem is this:

It matters not who is in power in a system of oligarchy masquerading as democracy, that system will always be working against the interests of most people and in the interests of rich and powerful elites, while having the gall to present itself as a paragon of democracy.

It is this corrupted system that needs to change, if a truly democratic and sustainable system of governance is ever to be achieved. And if it can’t be changed, then it must be dismantled and replaced.

The question, then, is how? Logically speaking, the answer, to begin with, is NOTA.

Thanks for reading. Follow these links to find out more and get involved:

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NOTA UK website

Onwards & upwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
07/09/16