Voting for 'none of the above' an option in Manitoba Elections

Under Manitoba's Election Act, voters can exercise their voting right and have their vote count as part of the overall turnout, by opting to officially "decline" a ballot.

Manitoba is one of only four provinces where voters can formally decline a ballot

A recent poll suggested 19 per cent of voters were still undecided just days before the election. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

How would you vote if come election day you find that none of the candidates running in your constituency represent your values or you simply don't feel inspired by any of the parties?

If you're like Elmwood resident Sara Calnek, you would cast a ballot for "none of the above" in this year's provincial election.

"Candidates in my area don't really represent what I represent, so I feel like it's my only option and it's one that actually counts for something and that's really important for me," said Calnek.

Under Manitoba's Election Act, voters can exercise their voting right and have their vote count as part of the overall turnout, by opting to officially "decline" a ballot. In the 2011 provincial election, 440 Manitobans declined their ballots.
Sara Calnek from Winnipeg is among the few Manitobans to have declined a ballot. (Courtesy: Sara Calnek)

Calnek says she has declined a ballot in past elections as well, when a friend who was aware the option to decline a ballot suggested she try that approach in light of her dissatisfaction with the slate of candidates.

Making a statement

Elections Manitoba says declined ballots are counted as valid votes towards no specific candidate, whereas rejected or spoiled ballots are considered invalid since they are considered to be marked improperly.

"The process [to decline a ballot] is just to get a ballot as you would if you were planning to vote for a candidate, and you take the ballot behind the screen an instead of putting your "X" beside a candidate's name, you write 'declined' across the front of your ballot. Then you would just refold your ballot and take it back," explained Alison Mitchell, spokesperson for Elections Manitoba.

"It's a way for people who do want to participate, but don't feel that they have, that there's not a candidate that truly represents their interests. So they're making a statement in a sense. They don't want to pass up the opportunity to vote, because it's important to them to have their voice heard," she said.

Manitoba is one of only four province in Canada where voters can decline a ballot during provincial elections.

In the last provincial election in Ontario in 2014, an unprecedented 30,000 voters formally declined a ballot. Last year, during Alberta's provincial election, just over 2,000 voters opted to support no specific candidate. Saskatchewan does not post the number of declined ballots.

Voting for "none of the above" in past Manitoba elections:

  • 2011: 440 declined ballots
  • 2007: 590 declined ballots
  • 2003: 426 declined ballots
  • 1999: 1,129 declined ballots
  • 1995: 16 declined ballots

Source: Elections Manitoba historical results

Surveys suggest many eligible voters don't like choices

Post-election survey commissioned by Elections Manitoba suggests that there has been an increase of non-voters who cite not liking any of the candidate options as a reason for not participating.

In 2003, post-election surveys found that 13 per cent of non-voters said they lacked trust in candidates, didn`t like any of the available choices or were disillusioned. Following the 2011 election, that number jumped to 22 per cent of respondents. 

'Legitimate protest'

Political analyst Christopher Adams says that when eligible voters do not participate in the electoral process it`s impossible to interpret motives for their inaction.

"Does it indicate dissatisfaction with the political process, or does it mean that people are apathetic, or that people are facing certain barriers to getting to the voting station?" he said.

Adams says declining a ballot is a legitimate way by which a voter can protest a facet of the election, but he feels it doesn`t yield satisfactory results.

"We still don't know why someone has declined his or her ballot I think it's not a good measure of what it was seeking to measure or indicate," he said.

Steps for declining a ballot according to the Manitoba Elections Act

STEP 1: Voting officer gives ballot to voter

STEP 2: Voter marks ballot

  • The voter must take the ballot directly to the voting compartment and, without delay, mark the ballot
    • (a) by placing an "X" in the space provided for that purpose beside the name of the candidate of his or her choice; or
    • (b) by writing "declined" on the front of the ballot.

STEP 3: Voter returns ballot to voting officer

STEP 4: Voting officer examines ballot

  • Without unfolding the ballot, the voting officer must confirm that it is the same ballot that was provided to the voter by examining his or her initials.

STEP 5: Voting officer or voter puts ballot in box

Source: Excerpts from the Manitoba Elections Act