04/18/2016 12:41 EDT

Manitobans Have Option To Vote 'None Of The Above' By Declining Ballots

Some argue that every Canadian deserves this option.

Manitobans heading to the polls this week will have an option that voters in just three other provinces currently enjoy — the right to pick "none of the above" and make it count.

It's a choice that some believe should be extended to every Canadian.

Just like in Ontario, Manitoba's Elections Act lets voters officially mark their discontent with all parties and candidates by writing "declined" on the front of their ballot. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, an official writes "declined" on behalf of voters.

Unlike spoiled votes where, for example, someone crosses out names as a form of protest, clearly declined ballots are counted separately and included in the overall voter turnout.

Manitoba NDP Leader Greg Selinger, Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari and Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister, are shown in these recent photos. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Proponents of such an option argue it allows citizens unhappy with their choices to make more of a statement than just staying at home and not participating in the process at all. Critics of the strategy suggest it's really no different than not voting at all.

The "decline your ballot" movement sparked plenty of attention during the 2014 provincial election in Ontario. More than 31,000 Ontarians chose that route — the highest number since the option was introduced in the province in 1975. Voter turnout also went up in the province for the first time in two decades.

31,000 Ontarians chose option in 2014

Democracy Watch, an advocacy group committed to democratic reform, threatened a court challenge at the time to try to force Elections Ontario to advertise this option on its website, ads, and voter information cards.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the group and a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa, says declining ballots is an imperfect but "essential" option for voters to have their voices heard when they don't feel they can support any party or candidate.

If you spoil your ballot, he says, nobody knows if you just couldn't fill it out properly. If you stay at home, you're telling politicians you're not concerned.

"So, they're not concerned about you," he told The Huffington Post Canada on Monday.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne celebrates her election win with with her partner Jane Rounthwaite on June 12, 2014. (Photo: CP)

His group wants the federal government and every provincial and territorial government to provide a clear, "none of the above" option on ballots, with space for voters to provide a reason.

Conacher says that if 100,000 people voted "none of the above" in a federal election and 50,000 wrote, for example, that none of the environmental platforms were strong enough, a clear message would be sent.

"Parties would fall over themselves to get those 50,000 votes next time around," he said.

Ex-MP on board with idea

Former Independent MP Brent Rathgeber told the Edmonton Sun during the last campaign that voters deserve the right to make it known when they can't support any candidate.

"People that are disgusted with the process or don't like any of the options will frequently spoil their ballot but I think that is an inadequate option because they're lumped in with the people who mistakenly fill out their ballot wrong," he said.

Just 440 ballots were declined in the last Manitoba provincial election in 2011, and 2,000 were declined in Alberta's election last year, according to CBC News.

Manitoba voters head to the polls on Tuesday.

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