Series: Automation of the Vote. VIII. Null and Blank Votes

Voting is the most direct way of expression in an election. By automating the process, some definitions and perceptions regarding the validity of votes have created, because unlike the manual vote, to blank vote may not be an option for voters.

Typically, the charges at issue in the election are presented, either on paper ballots, voting machines or electronic cards, with the candidate’s name and party when it comes to single-member voting, or simply the political organization to allude the type list vote. When the election is larger, as a presidential one, it’s usually indicated the name of the candidate’s party and his or her photograph.

It’s easier to exercise in a manual system, the nullity of the vote and even the protest mode known as blank votes, because the voter can vote several times for the same position, inadvertently or intentionally, generating invalid ballots. The voter can also leave the ballot unmarked to produce a blank vote. However, to generate invalid or blank votes in automated systems, other factors come into play, but the most determining factor is the electoral law.

To make viable the null vote, the majority of countries with automated election system take into account the time given to the voter to exercise his or her right or duty. A case that illustrates this approach is Venezuela, which while blank vote is not allowed in the country, a period is granted, renewable once, for each citizen to vote. The Organic Law of Elections states that when the period expires and it’s extended, the voter that has not marked any option will be marked as if he or she issued a blank vote. The instruction number 4 of the Act provides for other reasons and mentions the lack of votes in the option list or vice versa, and also in a multi-member election if the voter selects a number of positions inferior to the number than must be chosen, the options that are nor marked will become blank votes. The selected options will be considered valid.

Brazilian legislation enables the two modalities. In this country, in addition to select the candidates, there is a box dedicated to the blank ballots, making it possible to vote in this way. As for the null vote, it can be done intentionally or by mistake, since the Brazilian machines, which have a numeric keypad to type in the numbers of the postulate of choice, if the wrong number is typed, the machine will recognized it, generating one invalid ballot.

There are other ranges of the two voting options in countries that have not automated their elections, but are on the way to doing so. In Peru, Mexico and Colombia, the blank vote is valid, although in the first two countries they are not counted, but in Colombia they are considered and can have political influence. In that nation, the law gives legal significance because they may force the repetition of an election. This is referred to in Article 258 of the Colombian constitution, which clarifies that when the blank votes constitute a majority of all votes cast to elect members of a public corporation, governor, mayor or the first round of the presidential elections, election should be repeated once. It even warns that in the case of one-man election (governor, mayor, president in the first round) the same candidates may not appear, while in the elections to public corporations the lists that have not reached the threshold minimum voting may not be presented.


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