Why you should spoil your ballot at elections

Featured post by Maddie Wills

I have spoken to people frequently about their voting intentions in May 2023, and more often than not, the response is half-hearted or confused. People don’t know enough about political issues, or they don’t resonate with any particular party. It’s not surprising. UK politics is in disarray, and even as a politics student I struggle to find a party I think would do a good enough job. Which is why I think young people should consider spoiling their ballot in the elections rather than simply not bothering to vote.

I would always encourage people who feel unsure about voting to do some research; start with party manifestos online and try to work out what is important to you. However, if you have a good idea what political parties stand for, but still feel disillusioned and disengaged, then this article is for you. 

As the political spectrum has shifted in the UK, many people feel ‘left out’ of mainstream politics, and don’t align with any large party values. However, if you don’t cast a vote, the big political parties won’t notice you. They just won’t be able to identify these disengaged people. Political leaders need to be aware that there are large groupings of people who are willing to vote, but don’t support their values, as this could result in policy changes.

If you think this is unlikely to result in success, then take the Green Party as an example. Even though the percentage of the vote that they pull is small, bigger parties have identified that people care about green issues, and changed their policy to attract these voters. 

How do you spoil your ballot paper?

So, if you’re thinking ‘I don’t agree with any mainstream party policy, but I would like to show this disagreement’, this is how you can do it. 

  • Put a big cross across the whole ballot paper. 
  • Attempt to vote for more than one candidate
  • Put identifying information – like your name or address on your paper (this isn’t allowed). 

Be careful, if you rank candidates, or draw a symbol in only one box or near one candidate’s name, it may be counted as a vote. This happened recently when people drew penises their papers, only to find on the news that they’d accidentally voted for the Tories!

Voting turnout is falling in the UK, but there’s no way to know how many of these people who don’t turn out simply can’t be bothered, and how many do care about what happens to our country, but just don’t agree with any of the political parties. This applies especially to young people; if you’re in the 18-24 bracket, or have an older child, then this is particularly important.

Why are young people’s votes so important?

It is essential that the youth turnout increases in order to ensure that Parliament can meaningfully represent younger people; the more younger voters there are, the more politicians will pay attention to their issues. Turnout in 2019 amongst 18-24 year olds was only 47%, compared to 71% of over 65s. Unfortunately, because younger people tend not to vote, politics doesn’t cater towards their views, creating a vicious cycle where more and more young people become apathetic towards politics, and the country continues to cater mainly to older generations.  

If you are a young person who wants to care about politics but doesn’t feel represented, spoil your ballot! 

If you have historically been interested in politics, but don’t agree with the ideology of the parties standing in your ward, spoil your ballot!

If you stay home, you are presumed to be uninterested. If you spoil your ballot, you add to the voice of the disengaged and disillusioned, showing parties that there are people who are willing to vote, but that their campaigns have not appealed to. Spoiled ballots are counted and displayed with the final total, so your voice will be heard. And that’s how politics change for the better!

6 thoughts on “Why you should spoil your ballot at elections”

  1. Helen / Maddie,
    A few thoughts:
    If lots of people spoil their ballot-papers, that will tell politicians that there are lots of disillusioned / disengaged voters — but politicians have known that for a long time.
    Spoilt ballot-papers indicate what (non-) voters don’t want, but not what they do want. And different people want different things, and different combinations of things.
    Young people don’t feel properly represented by politicians, but nor do middle-aged and old people. Often we end up voting for what we reckon is the least bad option.
    Only rarely do people show much confidence that politicians will keep their promises. In any case, although politicians take big decisions (some of them on matters that didn’t feature in any manifesto), on a day-to-day basis the country is run by bureaucrats — people that we never voted in and cannot vote out.
    We need new thinking, new or renewed political movements, new democratic political structures, new and accountable leadership. Progress towards all of that will require sustained, positive action over a long period of time.

    • Thanks so much for commenting. I know there’s so much more to be done. I think Maddie’s coming at it from seeing most of her peer group feeling apathy towards the elections, and would like them to show up on election day to at least make a protest. It’s not the solution, but maybe it’s a start..?

  2. I have three teen daughters, one of whom is voting for the first time this May. Though she’s cynical in many ways about the current political offerings she knows how hard women fought to get equal voting rights and on that basis would never spoil her ballot. She believes the government are scared of young voters- introducing mandatory photo IDs to vote will freeze out many young voters, particularly disadvantaged young people who may not have a drivers licence or passport being an example of this. Vote. Just don’t vote Tory. Express your discontentment via the ballot box, not by spoiling your ballot which no one will care about or take notice of, plus’s adding to rhetoric that young people can’t be trusted with voting.

    • Hi Fliss, spoiled ballots do get counted. I think Maddie’s point is that not showing up to vote only tells political parties that there’s apathy for voting, which she thinks is not the case. Young people really want to change politics. However, what do you do if you can’t find a party you’re happy with. As a politics student, Maddie is passionate about voting, but doesn’t believe any of the parties right now have credibility. Spoiling her ballot will tell politicians that young people aren’t disinterested, and that theirs are votes they can win if they listen to what the younger generation want and change.

  3. In all my decades of voting, there was always a sense of differentiating between the mainstream political parties. Nowadays, I cannot tell the difference, they are all wearing the same suit. Sadly, unless the voting system changes and allows other parties into the “fight”, it’s just going to be the same old same old. Going backwards and forwards between red and blue. And between these two parties, and the ancient voting system to protect them, they have broken the voters will to vote. This alone should generate change.


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