Tag Archives: Reform

‘Vote Blanc’ vs NOTA

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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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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:

Facebook
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YouTube
NOTA UK website

Onwards & Upwards!

Jamie Stanley
Founder NOTA UK
20/04/2017

Meet Cambridge Analytica: the Big Data communications company responsible for Trump & Brexit

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In September 2016 at the Concordia Summit, a man called Alexander Nix (above) gave a ten minute presentation called “The Power of Big Data and Psychographics”.


It was essentially a demonstration of the extent to which his company Cambridge Analytica is now able to harness the power of ‘Big Data’ (the online and digital fingerprints we all leave behind) to influence global elections.

The company boasts “a revolutionary approach to audience targeting, data modelling and psychographic profiling”  that has made them “a leader in behavioural micro-targeting for election processes around the world”.

If you’re still reeling from #Brexit and #Trump and wondering how on earth we got here, you really need to watch the video of this talk:

In it, Nix explains how his company used this cutting edge combination of technology and psychological profiling to propel Republican nominee candidate Ted Cruz from total obscurity to being the main rival to Trump. At the end of the talk he reveals that, in light of Cruz pulling out, one of the two remaining contenders in the race for the Whitehouse is now using their technology.

That contender, it transpires, was Donald Trump.

It further transpires, according to an investigation by Das Magazine reporters Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, that Cambridge Analytica’s services were also hired by Nigel Farage’s ‘Leave EU’ campaign.

Much more on the company, the origins of the technology and details of how it was deployed during the EU referendum and US presidential election can be found here.

The upshot is this: for a price – literally millions – this company can, and does, use the vast amount of online data that exists on us all, in conjunction with advanced psychological profiling methods and existing social media algorithms, to profile, target and then push the buttons of millions of people in order to get them to vote – or not vote – however their paymasters want them to.

And that’s exactly what they did. This is not a conspiracy theory. There’s really no mystery to it. This is what modern ‘democracy’ has become.

It appears that in both cases, Cambridge Analytica profiled and targetted people who are susceptible to propaganda and well presented political messages, then ruthlessly exploited them, resulting in a spike in engagement on polling day among their paymasters supporters and a drop off among supporters of their opponents. Many a Remain and Clinton supporter has since bemoaned the fact that they didn’t vote for the simple reason that they believed the result to be a foregone conclusion.

What this means, above all else, is that neither Brexit or Trump’s victory had anything to do with any organic ‘movements’ to ‘take back power/control’ from any establishment as they are routinely portrayed. They were bought about, ultimately, by cynical, calculating, undemocratic, mass manipulation of the general population via targetted psychological profiling.

In spite of the non-racist, honourable intentions of many of those who backed Brexit and Trump, there can be no doubt that these election results have empowered the far right, to the point of it being able to rebrand itself as ‘Alt-Right’ and swell its ranks.

So, in a very real sense, this company and these campaigns (in conjunction with the programming of much of the mainstream media over many years, of course) could be said to be largely responsible for not only the results of these two crucial elections but also the rise of the so called ‘Alt-Right’ and the ‘Fake News’ / ‘Post Truth’ hysteria that has ensued since those results were announced. Without this intervention, it is entirely conceivable that the extreme fascist views of the far right would still be firmly in the fringes. Instead, they are now very much in the mainstream, barely concealed in the rhetoric of its most prominent cheerleaders.

What a pity these tech geniuses never use their powers for good. Imagine if, rather than just selling themselves out to the highest bidder with no concern for morals or ethics, they were to put their efforts behind genuinely progressive, pro-democracy campaigns.

Like ours.

MAYBE THEY ALREADY ARE…

I greatly doubt it.

Seriously though, it’s bad enough that our electoral systems are fundamentally undemocratic and ensure that only representatives of the same political class can ever get in, and that the partisan, deeply biased and hugely powerful mainstream media actively seek to control the electorate and directly influence our elections.

Now, on top of all that, unless you are aware of the dangers and take steps to avoid them, the apparently free and open internet is now also fully at the mercy of powerful undemocratic forces seeking to steal our elections.

Needless to say, we’re up against it. And needless to say, the need for truly democratic reform of our electoral systems and systems of government has never been greater.

Legislatively, much more needs to be done, clearly, if for the right price an Orwellian communications company can be drafted in to ensure an election victory for whoever can afford them, regardless of any moral or ethical concerns. But a formal, binding None of the Above (NOTA) option on ballots remains the logical, systemic starting point for this process. Find out why here.

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 (as opposed to the token gesture, watered down versions in India and Nevada, for example), 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 NOTA 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, even if they aren’t, NOTA is 100% achievable.

Introducing 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 surely critical time.

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

Facebook
Twitter
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…

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
02/02/17

UPDATE: 14/02/17 – Cambridge Analytica’s Trump and Cruz campaigns were specifically bankrolled by  billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. It transpires that prominent Trump advisor Steve Bannon was, until recently, also on the board of the company. It is now reportedly being lined up to handle all of the Trump administration’s digital communications, meaning it will be working closely with many departments across government. A detailed and extremely worrying analysis of what all this means for the future can be found here.

UPDATE: 27/02/17 – When I originally posted and shared this blog, many people instantly dismissed it as a ‘conspiracy theory’. Understandable, perhaps, as you’d think something like this would be headline news. Well, it’s not quite there yet, but elements of the mainstream media are finally reporting it. This excellent investigative piece appeared in The Observer on 25/02/17, confirming the story and revealing even more details.

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

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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
Twitter
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
09/11/16

 

A Trip to Trump-Ton: US Elections & NOTA

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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
Twitter
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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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