What is a spoiled ballot? Protest voting explained


AS Americans cast their final ballots in the US presidential election, some may consider spoiling their ballots.

This is usually done to express dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates available.

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Workers for the Detroit Department of Elections count absentee ballots and early voting ballots

What is a spoiled ballot in the 2020 US election?

A spoiled ballot paper is defined as invalid because the person voting has not marked it properly, whether unintentionally or deliberately.

A ballot paper can be spoiled if voters fail to mark it or fill it out in a manner that is incompatible with the voting system, for example over-voting or under-voting.

Ballots can also be rejected because of voter error – for example if a voter marks an intention to vote straight ticket and then votes for candidates from both major political parties.

They are usually separated from the rest of the ballot papers and are counted separately.

People at voting booths prepare to cast paper ballots at a polling location in Lanham, Maryland

What is a spoiled ballot in UK general elections?

A spoiled ballot paper should leave counters unable to determine the voter’s intention.

The Electoral Commission says “doubtful ballot papers” are placed in a tray for adjudication.

They are still counted alongside other spoiled ballots.

UK law precludes ballots “on which votes are given for more candidates than the voter is entitled to vote for”, “on which anything is written or marked by which the voter can be identified” or “which [are] unmarked or void for uncertainty”,

How does protest voting work?

The Commission says a ballot paper will not be deemed spoiled or void if the intention to vote for one of the candidates “clearly appears”.

So people can write a message or create another option, for example, “none of the above”.

People can also draw something in the box instead of a cross, for example a smiley face.

But if the drawing fits into the confines of the box, it will considered as a valid vote.

If it is too big, then it will be deemed invalid.

An election official gathers mail-in ballots as they arrive in secure boxes in Denver, Colorado
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