Woman inking her finger after casting her vote on the second day of presidential election, Mar. 27, 2018 – Egypt Today/Mahmoud Fakhry
CAIRO – 3 April 2018: Since Egypt has just been through an election, with its results announced Monday, one could not help but notice that the number of spoilt ballots has increased considerably from previous years. In fact, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi came first, then came the void votes, and finally Moussa Moustafa Moussa who came in the third place.
Sisi amassed more than 21.8 million votes; the invalid votes counted for 1.76 million, and Moussa garnered 656,534 votes.
The same thing happened in 2014, when spoilt votes amounted to 1.4 million of the total votes, outnumbering those that the then-presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi amassed, 757,511.
Any election, anywhere in the world, has surely found some spoilt votes ballots in its boxes. What identifies these votes or ballots as spoilt or invalid depends on the election, the authority governing said election, and the rules this authority implements.
First of all, let’s identify what rules dictate if a ballot is invalid or not.
Put simply, votes that are counted as invalid are votes that are not taken into count when the National Election Authority (NEA) in Egypt tallies all the votes cast. One way for a ballot to be counted as invalid is to leave it blank, without marking any choice. Another way is if a ballot is torn. If an individual writes on the ballot to indicate his or her choice, he or she have also invalidated their ballot. Some may even opt to choose more than one candidate or option, invalidating their ballot. Others even comment on the ballot paper.
So why is the number of spoilt, and thus invalid votes increasing? Have people fallen into the habit of commenting on their ballot papers more often?
Amr Hashem Rabee’, a journalist at Al-Masry Al-Youm, argued that invalid ballots increase and decrease depending on what is being voted on. A vote is more likely to see an increase in invalid ballots if the people are asked to vote on candidates, rather than in a referendum. The only exception to this was in 2012, when the referendum held over constitutional amendments in Egypt recorded more invalid ballots (1.8 percent) than in the 2012 presidential election (1.7 percent). Rabee’ argued that people may have invalidated their votes intentionally to avoid being caught in what was a highly controversial referendum at the time.
But Rabee’ also argues that the rate of invalid ballots correlates with how confused the voter is. The more confusing it is for the voter, the higher the number of invalid ballots.
Another journalist at Al-Masry Al-Youm, Hamdy Rizk, argues that one should “not curse invalid ballots,” in an article titled just that. He says that invalid ballots represent an opinion, just as much as a valid vote does. People use votes to show what they stand for, and invalidating a vote is also used as a means to show what one stands for. Rizk also calls for taking into consideration that some people may not be aware of the rules and regulations of the voting process, which should be taken into account when looking at invalid ballots. He states that this phenomenon where invalid ballots amass more than some candidates should be remedied.
A man takes selfie pictures with Presidential candidate Mousa Mostafa Mousa after casting his vote during the presidential election in Cairo, Egypt, March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
The thing with null votes is that it has a range of meanings and there is no way of telling which one is at play unless the voter has signified his or her reason one way or the other. But without hints, spoilt ballots can mean anything from ignorance of voting regulations, showing love or hate, to silent protesting. Ballots may even be validated by their casters simply to avoid the LE 500 fine imposed on those who refused to vote.
In an interesting article written for The Guardian, Lexi Rose advised voters to intentionally nullify their ballot cards if they simply do not like any of the candidates.
“Because lo and behold, if you turn up to the polling station tonight, in your hands will be a perfectly good piece of paper for you to make your point loud and clear. If you don’t want to vote for anyone – don’t! Just write ‘THERE’S NO ONE TO VOTE FOR’. Write ‘I *heart* Benedict Cumberbatch’. Write whatever floats your boat,” Rose wrote.
And that’s what Egyptians did indeed, whether or not they were aware that they were invalidating their votes by doing so. Many used their ballot cards to write jokes on. Ironically enough, the column where a tick should be marked within is titled “Express an Opinion” and people did just that.
While there’s no way to tell whether or not the ballot cards photographed in these tweets are real or not, they certainly do exhibit what Rose was talking about.