Quebec's 'Parti nul' is about something
Aug 25, 2012 / 9:05 am
Mathieu Marcil gets a lot of puzzled looks and smiles when he tells people he's running in the Quebec election for an outfit called the Parti nul, which translates loosely as the "nothing," or "void," party.
"I always get a sort of a smile because they first think it's a joke," Marcil says.
"In a way, the name is kind of funny but as soon as they hear what we're about, they say it's very appropriate. What the people tell me is it seems to be filling a void."
The party says it's trying to make a serious point about voter disengagement in an era of plummeting turnout rates.
It argues that rejected ballots, some of which are spoiled to express dissatisfaction with the choices offered, should be counted to reflect how cheesed off the electorate really is.
"Right now, people who are displeased either have their votes cast away and not accounted for or they simply don't go and vote," Marcil says.
That's something that's been happening more often in recent decades as voters have opted to stay on the sidelines instead of marking a ballot.
Turnout reached an historic low in the last provincial election, with only 57.4 per cent of Quebec's eligible voters bothering to cast a ballot in 2008. It has been steadily dropping since the 1994 provincial election, when voter turnout stood at 81.6 per cent.
The historical trend is similar in Canadian politics. The turnout in the 1979 federal election was 75.7 per cent and it decreased in subsequent votes, bottoming out at 58.8 per cent in 2008 before inching up slightly to 61.1 per cent last year.
Evidence of public cynicism was also on display this week during the Quebec leaders' debates. Some Twitter users commenting on them snickered that the real winners of the televised debates were the people who didn't tune in.
There idea of protest voting is not without symbolism in this election which, after all, came in the aftermath of street demonstrations.
Premier Jean Charest didn't have to call an election until December 2013. Instead, he pulled the plug on his current mandate after several months of student protests, some of them violent, against tuition increases. The premier said the election would give people a chance to pick the kind of society they wanted to live in.
Parti nul is all in favour of voting. It just wants a place on the ballot where people can indicate they're making a protest vote.
A spokeswoman for Quebec's chief returning officer said that any protest vote is simply listed among the total number of spoiled ballots. There is no specific breakdown provided.
"We have no way of knowing why the ballot was spoiled," Caroline Paquin said.
But by ignoring the protest vote, Marcil says, the public is left with an inflated impression of support for political candidates.
Acknowledging protest votes is not a new idea.
A number of jurisdictions and organizations in the world do it, including France and Nevada in the United States.
In 1998, Democrat Harry Reid beat his Republican challenger in Nevada by about 400 votes while the "none" option, indicating support for no candidate, got 8,000 votes.
In France earlier this year, two million protest votes, about 5.8 per cent of the electorate, were cast in the first round of presidential elections, one of the highest levels in French history.
Parti nul was formed in 2009 by Renaud Blais, the party leader, and it doesn't have a platform other than pushing for the recognition of the protest vote.
It has 10 candidates running in the election.
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