I am, if I am to be honest, on the fence about voting for David Norris, if he were to be on the ballot. His judgement has been shocking on this matter. However, I’m much more livid at the idea that professional politicians get to draw up a list of approved candidates, a “blessed list” in old Chicago ward parlance, from which I should be grateful to choose a pre-cleared candidate. As a result, I’m willing to spoil my vote to make a point.
But let’s be clear. Just scribbling “David Norris” on the ballot paper will make some people feel good, but achieve nothing.
However, there is a more interesting option.
If a voter was to write “David Norris” on the ballot, then draw a box with a number one in it, and then continue their preferences to other candidates, what happens? Legally, it’s a spoiled vote, and is excluded, because by defacing the ballot you are breaching the secret ballot. You could be signalling to a candidate that you voted for them, possibly under duress.
But, if thousands of ballots are marked the same way, it becomes much harder to make that argument, unless the returning officer believes that there is a massive intimidatory campaign to bully thousands of voters, which is unlikely.
But what happens next is more interesting still, because if thousands of nominally Norris votes have a clear demonstration of voter preference to other candidates, the other candidates become interested in them. Supposing, say, Michael D comes bottom of the ballot, but gets more nominal Norris No.2s, indeed enough to lift him into second last place. His lawyers would be mad not to make the argument to the returning officer that the Norris votes should be counted.
Let’s be honest. The returning officer could still say no, but it could end up going to court and at least making a mockery of the election, which, given the nomination process, deserves to have a mockery made of it. Also, by continuing preferences to other candidates, it would mean that if the returning officer did decide to include the spoiled votes, then there would be an unofficial Norris first preference count, so at least that vote would be nominally counted. And just imagine if the unofficial Norris first count was higher than some of the official approved candidates: Welcome to Ireland’s Florida 2000 election.
This is long shot stuff, and I also accept that if, in my own case, either Robert Ballagh or Dana made it onto the ballot (which they would have every right to do) I would have to vote against them and thus not spoil my vote.
But we do have options.