Ontarians who don’t want Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne to remain premier — but also aren’t fans of the PC’s Doug Ford or the NDP’s Andrea Horwath — can formally decline to vote in June’s provincial election.
It’s a form of protest that Ontario residents have the right to, according to Section 53 of the Ontario Election Act, which reads: “An elector who has received a ballot and returns it to the deputy returning officer declining to vote, forfeits the right to vote and the deputy returning officer shall immediately write the word ‘declined’ upon the back of the ballot and preserve it to be returned to the returning officer and shall cause an entry to be made in the poll record that the elector declined to vote.”
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And it’s a choice that 29,442 made in 2014, according to Elections Ontario. That means instead of skipping election day all together, these Ontario residents made their disapproval known — and it was the highest number of declined ballots since at least 1975.
Historically, about 2,000-5,000 voters decline their ballots in any given election, though there are a couple exceptions.
How can Ontarians decline their ballot?
Elections Ontario explains on its website that a ballot can be declined by a voter informing an election official present the station.
“The election official will mark ‘declined’ on the election documentation and your ballot will not be placed in the ballot box but in an envelope for declined ballots,” the website explains. “Declined ballots will be counted and reported after the polls close on election night.”
Such responses will be tallied and included in the final vote count under “declined votes.”
Making the option known
Whether Ontarians decline their vote is a personal choice, but co-founder of advocacy group Democracy Watch, Duff Conacher, said the option should be available and known to them.
Conacher added that Elections Ontario hasn’t made the option clear enough to voters.
“Elections Ontario has been negligent for the past three elections and continues to violate the provincial election law by failing to inform voters, in the advertising that they do, about the right to decline your ballot,” he told Global News.
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Conacher added that ballots should make the option to decline more apparent with a “none of the above” option, but that doesn’t exist.
“You go to the polling station, and you are handed your ballot after showing your I.D., and then you hand it back and say, I am declining ballot,'” he explained, “And you hope that the election officer knows that you actually have the right to do that.”
What’s a spoiled ballot?
Residents who don’t want to vote, but who still show up at polling stations and receive a ballot, often spoil their ballot.
That means they do something to the paper that makes it inadmissible — for example, crossing out names or writing something unrelated on it.
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This isn’t an option that Elections Ontario outlines, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it.
Conacher explained that people may spoil their ballot because they want to vote none of the above, but don’t know declining is an option.
“When you spoil your ballot, nobody knows whether you just don’t know how to mark an ‘X’ properly, or whether you actually are spoiling it in protest,” he said. “Declining your ballot sends a much clearer message that you are voting none of the above.”
If, on the other hand, voters make a mistake on their ballot, they can ask for a new one and an election official will mark the original one as “cancelled.”