2013 Federal Election / Domestic / Federal / Theory

“None of the above”, the most underrated reform?

by Kallen Martin White

There is a paradox within the principle of democracy which has not really been addressed properly. As such, in my infinite modesty, I propose to call it White’s Paradox of Democracy. It goes along these lines:

“For democracy to exist, there must be means by which the people may reject it as a method of appointing government if it is deemed undesirable by the majority. However: if this is true, then democracy will cease to exist even if it follows the definition of democracy as rule by the people”

The above paradox is not a mere thought experiment; it has been realised in the past. The most poignant example of this was when the Nazis won government in Germany because of voter disgust at the failure of the Weimar democratic system. However, before we even consider reaching the point where our federal democracy is deemed a failure, there is one humble proposal I would like to make that could not only strengthen our democracy but also boost the legitimacy of our government.

It is a travesty that currently out of all the democracies in the world only France, Spain, Ukraine, Columbia, Bangladesh and the U.S state of Nevada can be said to accommodate a “None Of The Above” (NOTA) option within the electoral process. I say so because including a NOTA option is not only to give relief to the apathetic and lazy but also to allow voters access to a legitimate and healthy choice on the ballot. After all, the voter has the right during an election to have his vote be registered as a disapproval of all the candidates offered. Also, can we be rightfully condescending to voters who just can’t be bothered anymore and want to make that particular view counted in a meaningful way?

Here are some other practical benefits of introducing NOTA to Australia:

  • No More Walkovers. A walkover situation is a disappointment for the voters in that seat as there is no reason to even hold an election in that seat; after all, it will be joke to have a ballot paper with only one box… unless NOTA comes to the rescue and allow the voters a chance to reject the one candidate on offer.
  • With NOTA, apathy will seriously affect the results, and we want our Politicians to work hard to make people NOT become apathetic. After all, it’ll be an embarrassment for a politician to lose to NOTA regardless of whether it is binding or merely symbolic.If NOTA win the election, a second round in that seat would encourage the parties to field more candidates to prevent NOTA from winning again. If a protest candidate (a fringe party who is voted in only because they are perceived as non-establishment) wins, there is no second chance for the electorate because that fringe candidate would now have the legitimacy of representing the electorate in parliament. If you think that is an unlikely situation, in the United Kingdom the Monster Raving Loony Party has some local councillors not because adult voters are crazy (we’d like to think) but because there is no other mechanism to voice dissatisfaction.
  • Considering that the only possible objection to NOTA could be the extra cost of printing ink to form the words “None of the Above”, doesn’t it look fair to include such a minor yet potentially beneficial electoral reform? The only difficulty that could ensue from implementing a NOTA option apart from more ink is the question of how to incorporate it into the preferential system that Australia uses. I would suggest that instead of calling this option NOTA the last letter could be subtly changed thus rendering “None Of The Rest” (NOTR). We could thereby integrate the NOTA option into our preferential system by making NOTR, for all intents and purposes, another candidate to consider while at the ballot box. The only difference is that preferences after NOTR will not be passed on after it flows to NOTR until there are only two candidates and NOTR left in which case NOTR will be used as a last resort to create the majority needed for a winner.NOTA would also complement our system of compulsory voting as it’ll alleviate the endemic negative campaigning that is designed to push voters away from a certain party rather than pull them towards support. To put it another way, were the voting public presented with the option of NOTA, negative campaigning would be less effective for politicians as voters instead of being pushed into supporting them could choose NOTA. Likewise, NOTA rewards positive campaigning about ideas as the number of voters who choose NOTA can not only make a difference to a an election but also respond better to positive campaigning. This is important because, unlike voters who spoil their ballots (of whom there are many), NOTA actually plays an active role in the election.

Okay, so maybe you agree with my pitch that a NOTA/NOTR option would make sense in a maturing democracy and be a positive adaptation of our voting system for the increasingly cynical 21st century voter. After all, Australia has a history of innovation in the art of election. For example, it only took 20 years of federalism before Australia grew out from the medieval system of First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) to the much more elegant preferential system and a further 20 years to reform the Senate towards the more proportional single transferable vote (STV) system. It has been almost 70 years since that last reform; maybe now is the time to concede we’re due for another one.

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