Forget proportional representation, here’s an even better way to make everyone’s voice heard on voting day

Instead of spoiling their ballot papers, voters could reject all of the candidates and ask for some new ones instead. It might even have changed the result of the French Presidential election


James Moore
Thursday 08 June 2017 11:07 BST
French President Macron only received a narrow victory over the number of abstentions
French President Macron only received a narrow victory over the number of abstentions (AP)

We all know that the British electoral system stinks, but I’ve got a simpler way – even simpler than proportional representation – to make sure every vote counts, and to (perhaps) make politicians a bit more honest: vote ‘RON’.

No, I haven’t had my morning coffee spiked with LSD and I haven’t completely lost my marbles. I can explain.

I went to university in Manchester. And while I spent quite a bit of time sampling that wonderful city’s many delights, I was also daft enough to stand for the student union. That’s where I first encountered RON – the only candidate to stand in every election.

The feat was achieved because RON was not a person (although one student did change their name by deed poll, which created a bit of a fuss). He was an acronym. RON stands for "reopen nominations".

RON gave the student body a choice that is unavailable to the British electorate. Voters could reject all of the candidates they were presented with, and ask for some new ones instead.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Currently the only way you can mount such a protest in a national or local election is to spoil your ballot paper by writing, say, “screw the lot of you” in big, bold letters. Or to leave it blank. Or to stay home and lose the opportunity to make your voice heart.

Quite a lot of people did the latter in the recent French Presidential elections. There’s a good case for saying that Marine Len Pen came third in the French presidential run off, if you take abstentions into account. Le Pen gained a record 10.8m votes for the National Front against 20.8m for the victorious Emmanuel Macron.

However, 12.1m French voters failed to turn out; a further 3.6m spoiled their papers. Based on that, “abstain” got 15.7 million votes and was within a shot of winning. I rather wonder if abstaining might have proved the most popular option of all, had there been a less divisive candidate than Le Pen opposing Macron.

How would those numbers have looked if voters could have made a positive choice to say “none of the above,” rather than spoiling their papers? If they could say instead, please find us someone else? Could Le Ron have actually won?

So, back to Britain. Because I believe we should have 50 per cent female representation in politics, I’d advocate RON getting to stand in half the constituencies, rather than all of them, with the other half featuring RONA (reopen nominations anew).

I have to confess I initially chose AVA (Another Vote, Assholes) as the name for RON’s sister, but I don’t really want to give some ex-colonel in the shires a heart attack at the polling booth, so I came up with a more decorous acronym.

For many people this election is about the least worst option. RON or RONA might give them a better one, a more effective way to express their unhappiness with the candidates on offer than spoiling their papers.

Regrettably, the media doesn’t pay great attention to the numbers of the latter, although they are always counted and included in the official results. RON and RONA (or AVA) surely would get noticed, however. There could hardly be a greater humiliation than losing to one of them. It would be quite a story.

I remember the looks on the faces of my fellow student hacks when RON looked like he was getting uncomfortably close during counts. I do believe he might have won on the odd occasion. It must have been hard for those defeated by him to live that down. It would be harder still in a national poll.

Imagine the BBC switching to Frentshire East Central. The camera pans across concerned groups of party workers before switching to the reporter: “Yes, we look like we could have a shock here. There is a real chance that RONA could win.”

Then imagine if the Election 2017 were to return as the returning officer gets up on stage to say, “and the duly elected candidate for Frentshire East Central is RONA”.

Getting turned over by RON in a student election: bad. Getting beaten by RON or RONA (or AVA) in a national election? The defeated candidates might never recover.

General Election polls and projections: June 8

Unlikely? Have a look at this year’s candidates.

Consider Theresa May’s miserable excuse for a campaign and her abject cowardice in refusing to attend televised debates. Consider, too, that while Jeremy Corbyn has proved to be surprisingly effective, a lot of Labour voters will only cast their votes for him with great reluctance. And then there’s Tim Farron.

Still think RON and RONA might not have a chance, at least in some?

It is true that people are fed up with elections and might baulk at voting for another – which is, of course, what a victory for RONA or RON in any constituency would require. But the desire to send a message might trump even that. Perhaps we should be given the right to do so.

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