By Julian Dierkes
On the day before the second round of the presidential election, my biggest question was about the movement to encourage voters to submit blank ballots, essentialy voting none-of-the-above.
We have known since election night that just under 100,000 nationwide chose this option, or 8.2% of the valid votes. Note that this is different from and in addition to the 39.3% who did not vote.
Already, this number was a huge jump from the 1.5% that had submitted blank ballots in the 1st round of the election which is remarkable given that a real effort to inform voters about the blank ballot as an option did not begin until after the 1st round and was limited to a (social) media campaign. Clearly, this option was relevant enough to many voters to embrace it in a very short time span.
Just an Urban Phenomenon?
From the results offered by the GEC we at least have a regional breakdown which is displayed very nicely on the ikon.mn electoral map.
The short answer is, No!, there were abstentions in significant numbers across the country and the highest rates of abstention did not even come in Ulaanbaatar.
As the ikon.mn editor-in-chief noted, it’s Dundgovi that had the highest rate at 15.6%. That’s 1 out of 6 voters or so in the aimag.
Дундговьчууд тасархай #ЦагаанСонголт 15.64%
Бүх юм ил боллоо
ТАНИЛЦ: Сонгуулийн ирц, саналын ХҮСНЭГТ https://t.co/9tJUUbzwyF pic.twitter.com/rn2raBk0Nb
— Bolortuya Ch (@Bolort) July 9, 2017
Umungovi came in with the third-highest rate of abstention at 12.4%. Recall that this continued a trend against the national results in the Gobi region which had strongly supported Ganbaatar in the 1st round. Since Umnugovi is the province most affected by mining (disruptions as well as employment) it is hard not to think that this is the explanation for these results but it is harder to think how exactly the prominence of mining in the Gobi provinces led voters to choose Ganbaatar or the blank ballot.
Other rural areas that show results for the blank ballot that are above the national rate are Bulgan (9.6%), Dornod (9.4%), and Khentii (10.3%).
It is also true, however, that more urban voters chose the blank ballot as all the shares of the vote in the Ulaanbaatar districts as well as in Darkhan-Uul and Orkhon are above the nation 8.2% except for one small village, not in Gaul, but Bagakhangai which appears to be an enclave of very committed MPP voters, all 1,110 of them.
So yes, the blank ballot was an urban phenomenon, but not restricted to Ulaanbaatar alone.
High Support for One Candidate = Few Blank Ballots
Generally, a pattern emerges that in aimags/districts with very high support for one candidate, the number of blank ballots is low, except for Ulaanbaatar districts which overhwhelminigly supported Battulga, but also showed high rates of blank ballots.
Examples of the former are Bayan-Ulgii which voted 55.4% for Enkhbold with Uvs (56%), his highest support in an aimag, but with only 2.5% blank ballots (Uvs 4.8%). Among the aimags where Battulga had a strong showing, Bayankhongor stands out from all of them with support coming in at a whopping 64.6%, but only 1.9% of voters not marking their ballot.
Turnout and Blank Ballots
To some, a high turnout is an inherent good as it suggests more participation by voters in the democratic process. Following this argument, one might ask whether the introduction of a none-of-the-above option increases turnout or not. Obviously, we cannot know that from the shares of votes alone as we have no additional information about the voters who chose the blank ballots, but there are some suggestive comparisons to make.
At first glance, it does not seem that aimags/districts with high rates of blank ballots have a higher turnout. This does suggest that the blank voters may not have chosen between not voting at all and a blank ballot. If that had been the case, you would expect turnout to be lower in low blank ballot aimags/districts. Ignoring the aimags with lopsided results mentioned above, an aimag like Zavkhan with relatively low support for the blank ballot (4.2%) has a slightly-above turnout of 65.9%. Or Uvurkhangai with a below-average turnout of 57.3% and a rate of abstention of 6%.
The most noticeable figure here again is Umnugovi with its high support for the blank ballot, but a barely-above-quorum turnout of 50.9%.
What about Age?
Was it only young(er) voters who chose the blank ballot? We know that the GEC knows and they would also know a gender breakdown as that kind of demographic information is displayed in every polling station (though background cannot be linked to a specific vote to protext the secrecy of ballots). But we could be offered information about polling stations that have a particular age breakdown of voters and whether they have a higher or lower number of supporters for the blank ballot. While this would not be conclusive it would be as suggestive as some of the rates I’ve looked at in this post.
I suspect that the MPP will want to do away with the blank ballot in the election law as it is too obviously a tool that voters can deploy against two-party dominance.
But, the support for this option once again shows the potential for political mobilization around reform movements and in support of a change in the party landscape.
Anyone involved in such reform efforts (intra-party through leadership/generational chages, or extra-party through social movements or the foundation of third parties) will want to pay attention to some of the distribution of the blank ballots.