# The Mechanics of a Blank Ballot

By Julian Dierkes

First, the presidential election campaign was sleepy. Then it turned sleezy. Now, things got exciting because some Mongolians seem to have found a strategy to fight back against two-party dominance and the “offer” of a choice of candidates that left many voters dissatisfied. That strategy revolves around the blank ballot, i.e. Цагаан Сонголт.

It seems that the blank ballot somehow snuck into the last revision of the election law to give citizens an option to vote “none of the above” on a ballot where they did not like the choices offered. I imagine that the original intention was simply to let voters express their support for democracy and the electoral process by showing up at a polling station, but then choosing not to elect any of the candidates.

While it is unclear to me whether this was an oversight or deliberate, this blank ballot option suddenly has taken on a lot of significance because the blank ballot is counted as a valid vote, so that it is counted when the result is examined as to whether any candidate received 50% of the votes.

This was confusing to me at first, as there are two minimum 50% requirements. [See also my earlier post on this prior to the 1st round of voting]

First, there needs to be a quorum of 50% in each polling station. If that is not reached, citizens who have not voted are given another chance to vote on the weekend following the initial vote. In the determination of this quorum, blank ballots are certainly counted. That is not the interesting question, however.

Secondly, a candidate needs to secure 50% of the valid votes to be elected, whether that is from among two or three choices.

Think about the July 7 second round:

The voting machines will tabulate four different piles of votes:

1. Kh Battulga
2. M Enkhbold
3. blank
4. invalid.

Now, in determining whether anyone has secured 50%, piles 1, 2, and 3 are thrown together to determine the total number of valid votes. Does the leader have at least 50% of this total? You see what is going on here: a blank ballot makes it that much harder to reach 50%. Assume 100 votes. A candidate would have to receive 51 votes to win. But if 10 votes are blank, the candidate needs 51/90 of the ballots that have made a choice, i.e. 57%.

Back to our current election. Battulga received 38% of the vote in the 1st round, Enkhbold 30%. If the share of blank ballot rises from 1.5% in the first round to even 4 or 5% it will make it that much harder for a candidate to win 50%.

And the revolutionary clincher is: If no candidate wins the second round, the giant reset button is pushed to force an entirely new election that excludes the possibility of re-nominating the candidates of the first election!

Discussions of the blank ballot have been percolating for the past week. First-round presidential candidate S Ganbaatar seems to have endorsed the blank ballot. Hashtags have proliferated:

On July 7, two numbers will be exciting to watch:

1. Which candidate will receive the most votes?
2. Will that candidate reach 50% or will the blank ballots prevent that?

## About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He tweets @jdierkes
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