Opinion: Invalid votes from 2011 to 2018

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Wed, 11 Apr 2018 - 10:00 GMT

Electoral workers count ballots during the third day of voting in Egypt's presidential election at a polling station in Cairo May 28, 2014 - Press Photo

Electoral workers count ballots during the third day of voting in Egypt's presidential election at a polling station in Cairo May 28, 2014 - Press Photo

CAIRO – 11 April 2018: Invalid votes in the recent presidential elections were too many to not merit studying. By invalid votes we mean those votes which are not counted by the relevant authorities when tallying the votes on accounts that the ballot paper is considered invalid. A ballot paper is considered invalid if it is left blank (without checking any of the candidates), if it is torn, or if it does not have the official seal of the elections authority.

A ballot paper is also regarded invalid if casting the vote is done improperly, the most obvious example of which is writing the candidate’s name on the paper which jeopardizes the secrecy of the voting process. A vote is also invalid if more than one candidate is chosen in a majority system of voting, or if the candidates chosen are bigger or lesser in number than what the voting system requires. A vote is also invalid if the voter writes any comments on the election or referendum in the ballot paper, or if they add names or cross out others in the paper.

After the January 25 Revolution, Egyptians took to the polling stations to cast their votes in elections or referendums more than once, and in every one of these voting events many invalid votes were found. In the three referendums on the constitution held in 2011, 2012 and 2014, the percentage of invalid votes were 1 percent, 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent respectively. In the presidential elections of 2012 (first round) and 2014, the percentage was 1.7 percent and 4.1 percent respectively, and in the parliamentary elections of 2011 and 2015 (first round of both elections) the percentage was 5.1 percent and 8.1 percent respectively. These figures indicate the following observations:

First, the percentage of invalid votes depends on the voted subject. If it is an election, the percentage of invalid votes is high; if it is a referendum, the percentage is low. The exception to this observation is the referendum of 2012 where the percentage was a little higher than that of the presidential election of the same year (1.8 percent and 1.7 percent respectively); this exception can be explained by the fact that the controversial referendum was rejected and frowned upon by most civil powers at the time, and therefore deliberately invalidating votes seems to have been the practice of voters in that referendum.

Second, the amount of invalid votes is determined by how easy or difficult the subject to be voted on is. In other words, the more a voter finds difficulty understanding what they are voting for, the more perplexed they become. Here arises the complexity of the voting system in the parliamentary elections of 2011 and 2015 as the main reason for the rise in invalid votes; in 2011 voters cast their votes in two ballot boxes, one for individual candidates and the other for lists. Likewise, in 2015 they voted twice, once for individual candidates and once for lists. In both cases voters were confused and did not fully comprehend what they were asked to do, the matter which caused the percentage of invalid votes to exceed the 5 percent mark.

Third, the sharper the polarization of opinions around the voted subject is, the less the percentage of invalid votes is. The reason here might be attributed to the parties mobilizing all their voting forces and explaining to them in detail the nature of the voted subject. This was seen in the emoting and mobilizing efforts of the civil powers on one hand and their Islamist counterparts on the other following January 2011 and up to June 30, 2013 and shortly after. Here we could compare between the percentages of invalidity in the referendums of 2011 and 2012, and in the presidential elections of 2012 and 2014, since, of all other percentages, these wavered between 1 percent and 1.8 percent only.

Fourth and finally, the amount of invalid votes increases with the rise of objections against the subject of voting. This can be evidently seen in the recent presidential elections since the percentage of invalidity exceeded all expectations. Voters went to polling stations to express their discontent about the absence of candidates, or to be more precise, their discontent about other candidates having been prevented from standing for elections. Some even went to the polling stations to cast their votes for no reason but to avoid getting fine

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