How Ontarians Can Vote 'None Of The Above' By Declining Ballots

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According to Section 53 of the Ontario Elections Act, voters have the right to decline their vote — and still make it count.
According to Section 53 of the Ontario Elections Act, voters have the right to decline their vote — and still make it count.

You've done your best to pay attention to the Ontario election.

You've read the stories, watched the debate, and tried to make sense of each platform.

But perhaps you still find yourself unconvinced and unimpressed as voting day inches closer.

It's not that you don't want to vote, you think. You just don't want to vote for any party.

So, what are your options?

You could sit at home on June 12 and find anything else to do but cast a ballot. In 2011, only 49.2 per cent of eligible Ontarians bothered to vote — a record low.

You could purposely spoil your ballot as a sign of protest. The problem with that strategy, though, is that your ballot will be lumped with all those from voters who legitimately made mistakes.

Maybe you wish there was a way to vote "none of the above."

Well, there is. Sort of.

At the end of the leaders' debate, moderator Steve Paikin hinted at this option while doing his part to encourage Ontarians to make their voices heard.

"Even if you decline your ballot, we encourage you to vote," he said.

According to section 53 of the Ontario Elections Act, voters have the right to decline their vote by handing the ballot back to the returning officer — and still make it count.

A declined ballot is recorded and reported separately than votes for a specific candidate or those that are spoiled.

Last month, Democracy Watch said it was planning a court challenge to have Elections Ontario advertise this option on its website, advertisements and voter information cards.

"Some voters may not support any party that has a candidate in their riding, or may not support any of the parties' platforms, and they have the right to be informed by Elections Ontario that they have the right to vote for 'none of the above' by declining their ballot," said Duff Conacher, Democracy Watch co-founder, in a press release.

The group wants the federal government and every provincial and territorial government to add the "none of the above" option to ballots, with space for voters to provide a reason. Democracy Watch believes this will increase voter turnout.

An Elections Ontario spokesperson told Yahoo! Canada News posters of voter rights placed at each polling location will include "mentions" of the option to decline.

It's also referenced, briefly, in Elections Ontario's online guide but not in the "Voting in Ontario" informational brochure.

And that has led one political activist to believe section 53 is Election Ontario's "dirty little secret."

Paul Synnott, 48, has voted in every election since he was 18. However, he found himself in a quandary this time.

He's a fiscal conservative and former PC supporter but was put off by Tory Leader Tim Hudak's earlier talk of right-to-work legislation and some aspects of his Million Jobs Plan. But Synnott, who lives in Windsor, can't bring himself to support the Liberals or New Democrats either.

So, he's going to decline his vote this year and has launched a website — Decline Your Vote — to educate others about how they can do the same.

Synnott told The Huffington Post Canada that he is not aiming to get Ontarians to switch their votes from any party, but instead trying to reach those who are already planning to sit this election out.

"Instead of staying home and not voting, I'd rather see people go to the polls," he said.

The process of declining is very straightforward, he explains, and has been allowed since 1975.

"You just go in, register to vote like you normally would and when you get handed your ballot, you simply hand it right back and say, 'I decline my vote,'" he said.

The returning officer is then supposed to write "declined" on the outside of the ballot envelope and record it.

But he cautions that if voters write "declined" on their ballot — or anything else for that matter — it will be considered spoiled and not be counted in the right category.

"(The) declined (category) is very specific. It's saying, 'I'm here, I'm at the polling booth and none of you are getting my vote.'"

Synott doesn't buy the argument that voters should have to "plug their noses" and pick a party they don't really like. He believes young people are the most responsive to his campaign, with those 35 or younger interacting most with his Facebook page.

And he's hopeful that if enough people do it — instead of not voting at all — politicians will have to take notice.

"They pay attention to people who vote," he said. "If they see a big block of votes out there that aren't going to anybody, those are votes that are available to them."

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