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The need to provide a ‘none of the above’ option on the electoral ballot

The arguments for the right to a ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot derive from a particular conception of democracy, the meaning of a vote and the purpose of elections.[1]

Democracy is not only a process of governing; it is inherently also a system of rights.[2]Criteria of democracy incorporate the notion of political equality among citizens that gives rise to the concept of voting equality whereby all votes are regarded as equal, i.e. each vote has equal weight or effect, without regard to the outcome of the voting decision.

To cast a vote is to make a decision regarding the appointment (and inherently, the suitability) of political representatives. Under the Irish system of voting, the citizen is only afforded the right to indicate his or her ordinal weight of preference for candidates on the ballot; the citizen does not have the right to express his or her decision that, for whatever reasons, none of the candidates should be his or her political representatives.

There is an argument that the purpose of an election is solely to designate political representatives. Support for this notion is found under Article 6 of the Constitution that states “all powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.” However, an election is, first and foremost, a function of democracy, and democracy guarantees the right of an individual to express their will through the ballot, to have one vote and for that vote to be counted and have equal weight or effect, regardless of the outcome of the voting decision. Therefore, the function of an election is to facilitate the expression of the will of the electorate. If a voter’s will is to express his or her decision that none of the candidates on the ballot are suitable to be his or her political representatives, then a binding ‘none of the above’ option is a democratic requirement.

Article 25(b) of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (1966) indicates the right of the citizen to have his or her will expressed through voting; it affords the citizen the right “to vote…at genuine periodic elections which shall be…held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors”. Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution upholds the citizen’s right to express his or her will: "the State guarantees…the right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions". The leader of the Opposition, Deputy Enda Kenny is on record recognising “it is a person's right to have an opportunity to vote against all candidates or to vote for one or another of them”.[3]In the context of this argument it is worth re-stating Article Three of the First Protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights:

 

The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.

 

Arguably, this protocol indicates the right of the voter to express an opinion that none of the candidates should be his or her political representatives. Without the option, a proportion of voters are effectively disenfranchised.



[1] Some might argue the basis of the argument is a maximalist conception of democracy.

[2] Dahl, Robert A.(1998) “On Democracy”, page 48.

[3] Dáil Debate, 17th February 2004.


Creation date : 04/12/2006 @ 14:22
Last update : 04/12/2006 @ 22:40
Category : Members of the network - Ireland
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