Voters, Decline Your Ballot

Well, the previous post was a bust, no?  Hoping to instigate a party for the downtrodden and … nada.  Not so much as a comment. Well, maybe it was a silly idea, given the short election cycle and the fact that my attempt to advertise in the Globe and Mail was dumb  since Globe readers are the most winningest in the system.

So if the rest of us ain’t a winner, I guess we’re the losers!? Party of Losers? Why not? The System here has three parties, let me reiterate: Party/Big Gov’t, Party/Big Biz, Party/Big Unions.  Each pretends to work for everybody, Joe the Plumber, the family, etc. As long as losers keep swallowing this lie, the status quo continues. As the pension & debt issues (unfunded liabilities) go unresolved, the music is building to a mighty crash. Wagner! Until the losers get their own party, there is no use for non-voters to vote.

As I said in previous blogs on this subject, ppl who don’t vote say: ‘ They’re all the same, they all lie, they do what they want anyway.’ If you want to see this spelled out, watch, if you can stomach it, TVO’s The Agenda. Their May 21 episode featured a number of such non-voters and a couple of  cynical System wonks who explained matter-of-factly why it is necessary for politicians to lie, etc. They give no solutions other than avoiding the Greens and being a smart enough lie detector, one who can guess the reality behind the lie and what will really ‘go down’. Natch, he didn’t really want you to wake up – and start a new party to properly represent the losers.

If you’re in the bottom third or the middle third, if you feel like you’ve been losing, what to do?  Well, you could pick a fringe or independent candidate that you do like.  However the way they/we’ve been dismissed by the media makes it so unlikely for any such candidate to ever be elected, that your vote, while at least honest, would be wasted. If you try to vote strategically, then you’re being dishonest and if you’re dishonest, it’s illogical and kinda dumb to expect the politician you vote for to be honest.  As they explained.

The only thing left to do,  is to make your unhappiness known to the System. Fortunately this can be done, more or less, by going to the polling station and asking to DECLINE your ballot. As Elections Ontario suggests below, declined votes are counted as people indicating  NOTA – none of the above. They also count  SPOILed  and BLANK ballots. Ballots are spoiled by goofs, scribbling, sloppy marks outside the allotted spaces or multiple marks. It is more difficult to ascribe an intent to a blank or spoiled ballot, since there could be ignorance, language difficulties, confusion etc .  and there is no way to decide for each case.  DECLINE your ballot instead.  Imperfect but better than nothing.

If you’d like to help spread this message, I think we should post yellow stickies with the words ‘DECLINE YOUR BALLOT JUNE 12’ printed in bold.  Stick them everywhere, including on election signs. The better they stick, the more they say, the more ppl will be educated about their real options.

Results for my riding in previous election

  • “Rejected as to marking” 153
  • “Unmarked” 49
  • “Declined by Voter” 14
  • Total Voter Turnout 39,743
  • Names on list 89,908

So let’s say 100 to 150 people wished to express NOTA, but only 14 did so semi-explicitly.  I asked Elections Ontario to give us an explicit option on the ballot and am still waiting for a response.  Perhaps you’d like to send them an email too.  If we got together, maybe we could ask for an injunction to force the issue?


Response from Elections Ontario to my request for info. 

Thank you for contacting Elections Ontario.   Electors do indeed have the option of submitting a vote of non-confidence. According to the Ontario Election Act, an elector may return a ballot to the Returning Officer to decline to vote:

“Declined ballot 53. An elector who has received a ballot and returns it to the deputy returning officer declining to vote, forfeits the right to vote and the deputy returning officer shall immediately write the word “declined” upon the back of the ballot and preserve it to be returned to the returning officer and shall cause an entry to be made in the poll record that the elector declined to vote. R.S.O. 1990, c. E.6, s. 53. Under the act, the declined ballot is recorded and thus the does satisfy the option you suggest of a ‘none of the above [candidate]’ ballot casting. The declined ballots are recorded and would serve that purpose. This information is recorded under the Ballot Statement of the Poll.”

For more information on the voting process, please consult our online guide here – which includes mentions of declining a ballot:

Click to access VotingInOntProvincialElections.pdf

Declined ballots are counted and documented along with the rest of the poll results. For example, the link below directs you to the 2011 General Elections Results, and as you will note, there is a section for “BALLOTS DECLINED BY VOTERS”

We hope this helps.

Sincerely, Elections Ontario

51 Rolark Drive Toronto, Ontario M1R 3B1


Elections Ontario 1.888.668.8683 Fax: 416.326.6210

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mark Henschel on 2014/06/04 at 7:11 am

    There’s a productive reason for voters, particularly young voters, to decline their ballots.

    Many hands continue to be wrung over the problem of engaging Canadian youth in electoral politics. Oddly enough, the opportunity to resolve this conundrum might be found in the upcoming provincial election in Ontario.

    The problem is that parties are convinced that youth won’t vote. Just look at how voter turnout — seemingly driven by disaffected youth — is circling the drain. Why waste time on people who won’t vote? And conscientious young people cannot conceive of voting simply for the sake of voting if it means compromising their values and empowering policies, parties and people that are alien to their interests. While their unwillingness to abandon their principles does them great credit it also locks them into a Catch-22 situation. The only way to “win” it seems is not to play.

    Luckily we have a clear and present opportunity to resolve this Mexican standoff in Ontario on June 12th.

    Unique (almost) in Canada, Ontario voters have the augmented electoral vocabulary to vote their conscience even if this means that they choose “none of the above”. They can decline their ballots.

    Freed from the necessity of making choices that work against their best interests and beliefs Ontarians can still demonstrate their willingness and determination to vote. In other words they don’t have to abdicate their democratic responsibilities by subtracting their opinion from the political dialogue. They can vote and be heard.

    Having voted “none of the above” young Ontarians will have formally challenged the political fraternity to come to the table.

    This is no small gauntlet to throw down. In the 2011 provincial election less than half of eligible voters bothered to show up at the polls. And there is a pronounced age skew to these statistics – most non-voters are in the 18-to-24 age group. With our pathetic electoral system, where candidates can win seats and parties, majorities, with less than 40% of the vote, there is more than enough electoral heft within this constituency for “none of the above” to “win” a few seats in the next parliament at Queen’s Park. That would put the cat amongst the pigeons!

    Having dispelled the notion that young Canadians have an inherent antipathy to voting, this intelligence should spread across the nation like a contagion. Which party wouldn’t want a piece of this fresh pool of votes, afraid that it will go to an opposition that is willing to listen? A turnaround in voter turnout would be the result.

    So, the most immediate and potent “nudge” that can be made in Canadian electoral politics is at our fingertips right now. It’s time to give the system a little push.

    My advice to young Ontarians… grab that lever and pull. Decline your ballots.


    • I hope young Ontarians, and oldsters too, will follow your well articulated advice. I just realized there is one fly in the decline ointment besides the confusion issue I mentioned – a declined vote is not secret. One must inform the returning officer and he/she makes the appropriate notation. At the very least, one will be forever removed from party lists, which might be a blessing, but maybe not. Secrecy isn’t important for partisan supporters and may not be a safety issue in Canada as in Syria, but we all know how important it is to safeguard the principle of secrecy. Is this new decline feature an attempt to open the door to some other kind of ballot or was it just a simple oversight? I’m not sure where to go with this but will post if I come up with something. Let us know what you think I/we should do. Thanks.


      • Posted by Mark Henschel on 2014/06/05 at 11:41 am


        The power to vote “none of the above” is not new in Ontario. Voters have had the additional vocabulary via the declined ballot in its current form for 40 years or so.

        In an incrementally more perfect world this would be a secret choice. I agree that’s an issue. However, that citizens in a democracy might be afraid of the parties knowing their names is more offensive and worrisome. Frankly, that they have observers who might be close enough to the non-partisan workings of voting to learn who declined their ballot — however, demonstrative and “public” — is plain wrong (c.f the Fair Elections Act) Yikes!

        Concentration of power in parties as well as government is why we need a candidate-centric electoral system.

        On the other hand, there’s safety in numbers. If enough young people (and other disaffected non-voters) could come to the polls and vote — preferably for a candidate — declining their ballots as necessary to the degree that every thoughtful eligible voter casts a ballot, then we’d have a significant grassroots movement that actually accomplished something. Individual insubordination would be the least of their worries.

        One neat side effect is that a significant “none-of-the-above” vote could call into question the legitimacy of our electoral democracy as it is currently implemented. This could be exactly what is needed to get us over the tipping point to remediating the democratic deficit, chiefly towards designing and installing a sufficient electoral system. (Yes, reforming the electoral systems in Canada is my main focus)

        Lots of electoral abstainers find useful voice in the many non-political movements. They frequently send signed letter to politicians. They aren’t afraid to be “know to the authorities”. I don’t think they’ll have a problem “demonstrating” in public at the polling station. I haven’t. And of course if they know who you are then they know who to talk to to find out what they need to do to get our vote. Right?

        The real stumbling block is getting people who have given up on electoral democracy to “believe” just this once more. I have to leave that to the orators.

        Greg Vesna’s “party” doesn’t help things…

        Hope this helps even if it isn’t something “post worthy”.


  2. On the matter of a declined ballot being secret, Election Ontario’s response to my request for clarification:

    Dear Mr Innes,

    The process of declining your ballot is private in that we do not document who is declining the ballot in our results. The ballot does have to be given to the Deputy Returning Officer, according to the Election Act, at which point the officer places the ballot in an envelope and writes “declined to vote”. This is the only procedure for declining a ballot of this time.

    The decision to decline a vote is your private and personal choice. We hope this information assists you in making your choice.


    Elections Ontario


    • Posted by Scott Cosman on 2014/06/12 at 6:23 am

      Can you give the Election Ontario source for this reply? Is this communicated to DRO’s?
      IE No notation on poll record of names declining?


      • Going by their reply above (which I assume is somewhere on their website), they must count ALL ballots to verify that there are no missing ballots – a precautionary step. Their link for previous election shows tally of spoiled, blank and declined votes. Hope that helps.

  3. […] here, yet, but the signs are clear. For the first time in living memory, people are talking about declining their ballot and there is even a party called NOTA, None Of The Above. Given that the big three (or four) show […]


  4. […] confirmed that a declined ballot means essentially ‘none-of-the-above’.  Please visit… and scroll to comments for their […]


  5. Posted by Mark Henschel on 2014/06/18 at 9:53 pm

    Just an update on the 2014 results.

    In today’s unofficial report the number of ballots declined was observed as 31,399.

    The only year there was anything like this was in 1990 when 20,795 declined ballots were cast. Usually, there are around 2 to 3 thousand.

    To put this in some context the referendum of 2007 attracted 21,790 declined ballots in some measure due to the mini-campaign I ran to reject MMP.

    I think the tally this year is significant and reflects a growing general awareness rather than any “movement”. That’s not to rule out a future initiative — say to get out the first-time voters to vote positively even if they have to decline their ballot — since there’s obviously still a lot of “head” in the waters… turnout is still hovering around the 50% mark.


    • Mark. Thanks very much for the info. Glad to see the increase in decline though i was hoping that increase would account for the higher turnout. Was surprised at your comment on MMP, which I was seeing as a potential positive outcome of the decline effort. Do you still feel that way? Is it MMP specifically or Proportional Rep in general?


      • Posted by Mark Henschel on 2014/06/19 at 8:38 am

        The result was about what I expected. If we saw a rise in declined ballots that would be accompanied by an increase in voter turnout — they both represent engagement. Many engaged voters would make choices they thought were for the best… the Greens for instance. The pundits who were saying the voters were “fatigued” and disengaging weren’t paying attention.

        Advocacy for PR is doing more harm than good because it stops the thinking about reform and confines it at the party level. However, what we have is not a circumstance where chiefly parties are treated unfairly by the system but one where the voter’s electoral and political voice is tightly constrained and is not translated faithfully or inclusively into representation that meaningfully puts the “we” into democracy.

        What we have is a failure to communicate which is both a failure to articulate and to translate. This problem is at a more fundamental level than the parties’.

        Here’s an example. Michael Chong has what seems to be a very reasonable bill in play to empower MPs to speak and vote more on their own recognizances… to allow them to better “do the right thing” by their own lights and by their constituents and to resist the centralized mono-cultural power within their own parties. Chong’s effort is at the procedural level and ignores one very important democratic fact: true empowerment has to derive from the voters (really the citizens). If MPs are going to speak and vote more independently hadn’t they better have the mandate from the voters to do so? Otherwise their power would be just as illegitimate as Stephen Harper’s majority government is. But PR and MMP say nothing about MP legitimacy. Fair Vote (and other electoral reformers) could (and should) be saying to the MPs “we believe in your empowerment and our advocacy supports you and the Reform Act so you have the backing of the people of Canada to pass this act… just remember our support later and help us get the reform that empowers both MP and voter and legitimizes our democracy.” But they can’t because party-based electoral system work against empowering MPs (and, so, work against empowering voters too).

        A sufficient system will be proportional but only incidentally. PR isn’t the correct objective. Thinking in terms of PR is to treat a melanoma with makeup.

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