Spoiler Alert! Ballots and Backlash

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by Dave_S via Flickr

You’ll need to have been living under a rock to miss the news of the snap General Election that’s happening in the UK on June 8. It seems to be all anybody can talk about – at the pub, on social media and even outside the library on a cigarette break. But, unfortunately, political conversations at Lancaster University have become less talk and more argument. If you don’t agree with someone’s political opinion, you’re branded an idiot and told to remove yourself from their social media accounts.

I – like the majority of students at Lancaster University, it seems – will be heading to the polling station on June 8th. However, quite probably unlike other students, I will be spoiling my ballot.

Before you are quick to judge me for wasting my democratic voice, consider this… A spoiled ballot is not a wasted vote at all. In the 2010 General Election, the UK received around 295,000 spoiled votes, the number decreasing to just under 100,000 spoiled ballots in the 2015 General Election. Despite these figures only representing 1% of the vote, 34% of registered voters failed to even cast a vote.

Speculation suggests some of those 16 million people didn’t vote because they didn’t want to vote for any of the candidates or affiliated parties. But if those voters had turned up and actively voted for no one, spoiled votes would have outnumbered votes for all other parties.

I promise I’m not trying to convince you to join my protest against the political system, I believe everyone should have the freedom to decide how and if they exercise their vote. My point is that, in the past month alone, I have received the exact opposite of that sentiment.

I am apolitical for a number of reasons that I do not need to justify to you, dear reader, and so I have quietly observed the political conversations that have become increasingly more aggressive and pessimistic as June the 8 looms ever closer. But when asked how I’ll be voting, I am honest and simply state I’ll be spoiling my ballot. And this is when the abuse starts… Questions hurled, judgement rife, eye rolls, sneers and dismissive sighs, I’ve seen them all.

Instantly dismissing mine – or anyone’s – views and opinions and telling me instead to vote for a certain party, with no reasoning whatsoever, does the complete opposite of making me want to vote for that party. I was chased through Alex Square just last week by a party councillor who could not accept that I wouldn’t be convinced or swayed otherwise, I physically had to run away from a stranger on a campus where I’m supposed to feel safe.

It is because I am a feminist that I spoil my ballot. Accusing me of anti-feminism because I’ll be spoiling my ballot is not only incorrect, but also impudent, and an accusation I received from someone who isn’t even eligible to vote in the election, therefore seemingly more contemptible. I appreciate that women have fought for my right to vote, some even sacrificing their lives to further the cause of other women. But it is my right to choose to exercise that vote, and if I do vote that it be for whomever I want.

A spoiled ballot is a valid vote. It is counted as a protest vote. If you’re unimpressed by the political sphere, uninterested in politics, or can’t decide who is the lesser of two evils, why should you be criticised for spoiling your ballot?

So whether you’ll be heading to the polling stations or not on June 8, whether you’ll be drawing an X in a little box or a phallic symbol across the entire ballot, I urge all Lancaster Students to be a little more open minded to others political opinions, a little more civil when you disagree, and a little more optimistic whatever the result.

If everyone’s social circles and social media accounts were to become an echo chamber of their own beliefs, you wouldn’t be able to consider alternate realities where not everyone thinks and believes in the same things as you do. And what kind of a world would that be?