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Spoiled votes

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Nick Robinson | 02:02 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2007

In one Scottish seat just announced - Glasgow Anniesland - there were 1,736 rejected ballots - that's a massive 7.2% of those who voted. The level of spoilt votes in the first three Scottish declarations has been running at 3% to 5%, well above the norm.

The huge number of wasted votes is presumably because people simply don't know how to fill in the ballot paper. Scots voters are not just having two votes for the Scottish parliament - there's an utterly separate system for the Scottish local elections, and of course, there's a third system for the Westminster elections. A potential problem with the electoral process.


  • 1.
  • At 02:06 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • einstein wrote:

It is in fact a subliminal IQ test...

  • 2.
  • At 02:09 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Clothilde Simon wrote:

Surely all votes from people too clueless to fill in a ballot form should be counted as SNP? It's hard to see an intelligent person voting for Bonnie Prince Alex.

  • 3.
  • At 02:09 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Drunken Voter wrote:

Dare I insult 5 million Scots and question how hard is it to put a cross in a box? Nick, you're sympathetic to their plight of multiple votes but it has often happened in the past with local/general/European elections happening on the same day, why is it only a problem now? Maybe it's trying to use golf clubs to vote with that's the problem? :-p

  • 4.
  • At 02:10 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Slightly troubled wrote:

What counts as a spoiled paper? Apart from the obvious tearing up, scribbling, defacing, putting crosses everywhere.. would, erm, folding your ballot paper count as spoiling it?

I folded one of mine before I noticed the instruction not to ( yes, I know, my fault) but thought I had straightened it out well enough.

I don't know!

  • 5.
  • At 02:13 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Mike wrote:


Your coverage is managing to help get me through my politics,dissertation on UK elections! Good timing.

Any news on my home town of Chorley? I believe it was high on the Conservatives 'wish list' last year and they managed to take it from Labour.

  • 6.
  • At 02:13 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Kate Samuels wrote:

This totally ignores the fact that many people may wish to take part in the election, but are unhappy with any party (or are unhappy with their national party but do not feel they could vote for anyone else). They therefore choose to spoil their ballot as a protest so that they're vote is counted and they have taken part in the process

I think that this is an important issue, and would actually mean that the democratic process is working - citizens giving their views to be counted.

  • 7.
  • At 02:14 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Henry Adams wrote:

Amazing what fixing the postal vote can do for Labour!

Shame on the BBC for going along with it!

  • 8.
  • At 02:25 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

Whilst on the subject of 'spoiled votes'. In Chorley, many people including my family and I didn't receive or ballot papers- even after chasing them up time after time!

At Uni in Newcastle, seens all fellow students are voting for Lib Dems.

  • 9.
  • At 02:25 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Ian Cowan wrote:

I'm Scottish and voted using the postal system. We had 2 ballot papers and one asked us to list our choices from 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on for as many or as few choices as we liked. When presented with 6+ choices things soon get complicated. "Will I vote for them?" or "Will I leave that one blank?". I made sure to double check but I'm sure many got caught out.

  • 10.
  • At 02:29 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • peter wrote:

Ah, drunken voter, you make the same mistake as many of my countrymen(and possibly a few women)...we use numbers as well as crosses now. Complicated, eh?

If this goes on the Spoilt Ballot party will come in either 4 or 5th in the Election defeating the Greens.

This is shocking, it is a travesty and makes us look like a third-rate nation. A total rethink will be necessary and I would suggest their will need to be an Official Enquiry.

Don't also forget with the rate of spoilt ballots the whole election could now be in jeopardy and open to legal challenge. The rate is now overall at about 4-5%.

Countries like Zimbabwe and Nigeria will just be laughing at us. This is just another low point for the Scottish Executive.

  • 12.
  • At 02:42 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Nicola Raymond wrote:

So 7.2% of the votes are void against anything between 30 - 50% of the voters casting their votes? I bet Big Brother and The X Factor get more votes from the British public than that! I will point out that here in Australia (SA) it is compulsory to vote in Elections and I wonder what your opinion is on that Nick? My pet Kangaroo would like your reply too as he sits here next to me!!! And please can you ask Betsan what his happening in Preseli Pembrokeshire (my constituency) Cheers!

  • 13.
  • At 02:45 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Drunken Voter wrote:

Well Peter, I would assume that the instructions on the ballot papers would be clear and concise enough to understand. If this is not the case feel free to correct me but else, if people can't follow simple instructions on how to vote, do they deserve to have their attempt counted? :-p

  • 14.
  • At 02:49 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • jack salmond wrote:

Maybe its trying to vote and protest at the same time thats the problem albeit with or without golf clubs massive apathy... to vote with that's the problem?

  • 15.
  • At 02:50 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • PatB wrote:

Never mind the spoiled ballots; it's pretty disgraceful for a democracy like ours to have such a low voter turnout in the first place. Look at France last week where they had over 85%, and in Britain if we get 60% we think it's a high turnout! Perhaps a "None of the above" vote might encourage people to go out and make a legitimate protest vote if that's what they want...

  • 16.
  • At 02:53 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Rachel wrote:

Drunken Voter says "Dare I insult 5 million Scots and question how hard is it to put a cross in a box?"

I suspect you don't understand the 2 (different) voting systems we have had to use today. 2 elections, and neither of them says "put one cross in one box".

The parliamentary system gives you two votes, so you choose 1 from each of 2 columns with a X.

The council election gives you a column of people that you select with a number, in order of preference - not a X in sight, unless you only want to express a preference for only one person... More than 1 X and the paper is invalid...

easy? not exactly...

I suspect that what is happening is that people who are used to the "one vote, one cross" system are getting confused by the STV paper, and probably getting the hang of that, but then assuming it's the same system for the other paper, which then makes the Scottish parliamentary vote invalid.

And I think they'll regret having decided that it was unnecessary to have some kind of statistical checking to test whether the claims made by the Electronic Vote Counting systems match reality in live usage! No testing survives reality...

  • 17.
  • At 03:09 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

Drunken, you are quite right, there were clear instructions and I am slightly bemused that so many people can't follow them. However, I've spoken to many smart folks who weren't clear about the changing system in Scotland. There has been too little political education, given the size of the change. My point is that the changes have required more than people to place a simple cross. The big problem, I think, is that we have introduced the STV system for local government at the same time as changes to the ballot paper for the Scottish Parliament. I hope that the predicatable problems with the new system don't overshadow the results, it'slooking very interesting up here

  • 18.
  • At 03:22 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Greg Watson wrote:

Two things: firstly, why should there be different electoral systems in Scotland, Wales and England?

Secondly, as a former member of the Conservative Party: considering the lack of acceleration in Conservative gains is it not time to question David Cameron's suitability to lead a general election campaign before Gordon Brown accepts his honeymoon period as a new leader AND prime minister?

Despite his approach to taxation, Gordon Brown is undoubtedly a heavyweight political figure whereas David Cameron still seems to be a bumbling Hugh Grant figure lacking in conviction and substance.

  • 19.
  • At 03:22 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Charles Broadfoot wrote:

This spoilt paper issue is a non story. Typically people have rushed to a judgement before examining the facts. When counting votes for the first past the post system anyone who has not expressed a preference for any of the listed candidates has been identified as a spoilt paper on this list. It is fairly obvious that these are people who wanted to particpate in the regional list vote for a different party but had no preference on the first past the post vote.

I have to agree with you, Nick. I have been blogging this election tonight and I find the spoilt ballots issue to be an issue that will become the equivalent of the "Florida Hanging Chads" of the 2000 US presidential election.

Voting for one candidate is fine, but then adding voting for a list, and then putting down a preference of votes for candidates all in one go, could certainly be confusing. They should use one system for all elections.

  • 21.
  • At 04:38 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

Do I detect a clever idea here? It is well known that neither Labour nor Conservative want any form of proportional representation so is this a deliberate ploy to say 'look it confuses people' when really it is down to two systems being used in parallel?

The result is so heavily influenced by spolilt ballots that it is difficult to see how the results can stand!

  • 22.
  • At 07:45 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • james wrote:

I spoilt my paper on purpose. Currently the only way to show displeasure at the whole farce and the fact that none of the parties care one jot for the likes of me (reasonable pay, no kids, not young, not old, live in rural scotland where public transport is laughable so I NEED a car to get to work).

Try the petition at the government website
asking for the "none of the above" option

  • 23.
  • At 09:21 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Martin Johnston wrote:

I do not but into this "the ballot was too complicated" argument.

The instructions were printed quite clearly at the top of each ballot paper and easily understood.

It is not the fault of the system that some people are either too stupid or too lazy to read the instructions.

  • 24.
  • At 09:27 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

If people can not read simple instructions on how to fill up the ballot papers then they do not deserve a vote

As posted elsewhere spoiled ballot papers are a choice of many when the choise of candidates is poor. For example, the SNP have some sound domestic issue poiicies on water pricing, council and local income taxes but their central tenet of independence does not suit many. Others may like some Unionist policies but are still blinded by some of Auntie Margaret's mistakes

For to the point is the pathetic voter turnout in a putative democracy. In other countries which the "west" decry as being poor democracies the voter turn out is up in the 80 and 90% - at least those voters are trying to make the system work.

How about the "Auld Alliance"? France will see a high turn out

  • 25.
  • At 09:56 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • John Wilkie wrote:

Last night, only one of the Scottish declarations that I caught broke the rejected ballot papers down to different categories - that was Dumfries. In that case (and as na example of 1 can't be regarded as representative), just 40 out of 1000 had multiple votes on the ballot paper, more than 900 were simply blank. An alternative explanation for the large number of rejected ballots are that a sizeable number of people were simply voting for their council elections and did not want to vote for the Scottish parliament. As you can't take your ballot paper with you, they simply stuffed it in the box.

  • 26.
  • At 10:15 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

At my polling place here in Scotland, posters were on display in the entrance, detailing how the voting system worked. Then the first person who greeted you inside was there specifically to check if you understood the system and to walk you through it if necessary, before you went to get your ballot papers. Each of the two ballot papers had clear instructions at the top, and each was a different colour. Ok, maybe there should have been 3 separate papers instead of combining two lists on one, but if after all this, people still managed to get it wrong, what can you do?

  • 27.
  • At 10:32 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • Peter Douglas wrote:

"Dare I insult 5 million Scots and question how hard is it to put a cross in a box?"

Your vote would been invalid... We had to put numbers in some and crosses in another, multiple votes on one and single votes on another, local person on one, regional person on another...

Every voter in Scotland must be wondering "Did I fill in these forms correctly? Scotland a laughing stock once again! What a shambles!!!

  • 29.
  • At 12:24 PM on 04 May 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

Dopes for not reading the instructions...


...Dopes for making the instructions so complicated?

  • 30.
  • At 01:00 PM on 04 May 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

Not just wasted votes for spoilt ballots but wasted votes thanks also to confusion over the how the regional systems works. 80,000 people in Glasgow second voted Labour, 55,000 SNP but because of the number of Labour constituency wins and peoples ignorance of how the system works 4 out of the 7 regional seats went to the SNP. So for the SNP 60% percent of the seats for a quarter of the votes. Hardly representing the will of the people. Combine this with the ludicrous new council system which not only has a completely different STV voting system but a ridiculously complicated way of implementing it (with quotas and only 3 or 4 candidates per ward) no wonder people were confused. This election has been a joke.

Actually ,many of the so called spoiled ballots were not anything of the kind.I agree with post no 6.
I wrote in worldsocialism on my ballot after scrawling out all of the candidates with the instructions "none of The above" as there wasn't a real socialist standing in the Scottish elections,one who advocated "the abolition of the wages system" and its replacement wth a free access society,without wages or prices .I don't count the S.S.P. or their fellow Trotskyists,ex SSP'ers the Sheriden Party as socialists and never have considered Labour to be anything but a supporter of capitalism.The fact my vote would be defined as a spoiled paper doesnt make it any less a genuine protest as voting for a minority party would.
Yours for Socialism,
Matt Culbert

  • 32.
  • At 09:27 AM on 05 May 2007,
  • darrener wrote:

Drunken Voter wrotes "Dare I insult 5 million Scots and question how hard is it to put a cross in a box?"

Only if you would like to insult London voters too. They managed to come up with 550,000 spoiled papers in the London mayoral/assembly vote of 2004.,3605,1237277,00.html

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