Posted by: sean | June 8, 2009

Voting blank

sois_fcAs I said before, many Lebanese don’t really have much of a choice when it comes to voting in Parliamentary elections, due to sectarian gerrymandering. As a result, some young people I’ve spoken to have made it a point to go out and vote, if only to voice their frustration with a process that doesn’t offer them anyone whom they feel actually represents them. That is to say that they go out only to put in a blank list in the ballot box (you have to bring your own).

One group of feminists here even did a spoof of the Aounist ad, “Sois belle et vote,” (Be beautiful and vote) telling everyone to “Sois intelligente et vote blanc” (Be smart and vote blank).

I was introduced to voting blank when I first moved to France some ten years ago, and could never make up my mind if it was a good idea or not. I remember thinking that it wasn’t such an effective strategy when Le Pen made it into the second round of the presidential elections by beating Jospin to find himself in a runoff with Chirac. In any case, I’ve always wondered if the blank votes are counted and if anyone takes any notice. So as a public service, I’ve gone through the official elections results, which breaks down the count by number of registered voters, number of votes cast, percentage of turnout, invalid votes and blank votes (click the table for a pdf version):

voter turnout

There are some problems with the official results, which seem to be typos made by the Ministry of the Interior, so for some districts, the information is missing or zero. The figures highlighted are estimates that I was able to extrapolate, generally when there was a figure for number of registered voters and a percentage for turnout, but a zero given for the number of votes cast. When they gave zeros for number of votes cast, there were generally zeros given for invalid and blank votes also, which I can’t extrapolate, so I put n/a for those values.

On average, about 0.7% of the votes cast were blank. Of these, the Druze seemed to be most likely to vote blank, with Aley (1.7%) and the Chouf (1.6%) having the highest percentage of blank votes trailed slightly by Bint Jbeil (1.5%). All in all, the protest vote doesn’t sem to have been too much of a factor, and in many cases, it was roughly equal with or even lower than the number of invalid votes. I’ve taken a quick look at the closest races, and as far as I can see, there isn’t an instance when the number of blank votes could have made a differenec in the results. So the question remains, is it intelligent to vote blank? Take a look at the numbers and tell me what you think.

And speaking of protest votes, good ole Pierre Hashash got a grand total of 61 votes in Tripoli.

District registered voters votes cast turnout % invalid blank blank (%)
Akkar 223538 120060 53.7% 778 354 0.3%
Aley 116181 59779 51.5% 577 1013 1.7%
Baabda 151590 84546 55.8% 526 414 0.5%
Balbaak-Hermel 255637 126038 49.3% 776 869 0.7%
Batroun 58444 32914 56.3% 129 117 0.4%
Bcherre 46422 17183 37.0% 126 134 0.8%
Beirut I 92764 37284 40.2% 201 183 0.5%
Beirut II 101787 27787 27.3% 450 315 1.1%
Beirut III 252301 103243 40.9% 705 991 1.0%
Bint Jbeil 123396 52899 42.9% 420 783 1.5%
Chouf 181949 91642 50.4% 1029 1502 1.6%
Hasbaya-Marjayoun 138844 64975 46.8% 536 506 0.8%
Jbeil 75582 40814 54.0% n/a n/a n/a
Jezzine 54188 29225 53.9% 117 113 0.4%
Keserwan 89228 60336 67.6% 266 215 0.4%
Koura 57794 27417 47.4% 178 161 0.6%
Mennieh-Doniye 97352 54916 56.4% 495 436 0.8%
Metn 170744 96748 56.7% 439 460 0.5%
Nabatieh 121912 59737 49.0% 67 92 0.2%
Saida 53859 36624 68.0% n/a n/a n/a
Saida-villages 92995 50217 54.0% n/a n/a n/a
Sour 153060 74941 49.0% 640 1073 1.4%
Tripoli 196149 88267 45.0% 1038 n/a n/a
West Bekaa-Rachaya 122487 65237 53.3% 402 264 0.4%
Zahle 158057 88512 56.0% n/a n/a n/a
Zgharta 71035 34399 48.4% 221 175 0.5%
Totals 2709567 1349325 49.8% 8455 9731 0.7%


  1. I guess there are not that many blank votes because until this election, they were not counted – they were lumped with ‘invalid’ – and many people still weren’t sure whether they would be counted this time. (Although I know that in the Netherlands the blank vote is usually around 0,2%, so it’s not that low here).

    There was a lot of discussion about voting ‘blank’ among my friends, whether such a vote means ‘i don’t agree with anyone but am ok with the electoral system’ or ‘i don’t agree with any of this.’
    In the end, the only one who put in a blank vote was a friend who votes in Sour, because she felt there was no real choice (not sure, but I think it was only Hezbollah running there), and she wanted it to be known that they shouldn’t take her vote for granted if they are the only option. More like the ‘no’ option in a referendum, rather than staying away.

    (Sorry for the long comment, but I think it’s an interesting topic!)

  2. Walaw! You’re right, it’s never been clear exactly if they’d be counted or not. I’ve got a couple of complaints about sloppy mistakes while getting the official results out, but I’m really glad to see that the information is publicly available. That’s a really good change.

    You’re also right that it’s unclear exactly what a blank vote means, except for a general unhappiness with the situation. Although in al-Akhbar yesterday, I did see a vote that read something along the lines of “shit on all of you and this whole election in a banana republic.” If I can find it online, I’ll post it.

  3. Ah, you beat me to it! But I only counted the blank votes last night, which is how I know that you are missing 1027 blank votes for Tripoli and that the total actually adds up to 11197 (83%), a magic number. And Rami on +961 has the photo of “shit on you”. I am afraid this one will be counted as “invalid”.

    The blank votes in Shouf and Aley do not mean that the Druze are most likely to vote blank. It could be precisely Christians protesting the Druze fiefdom.

    I agree that it is not entirely clear what a blank vote means. Problem is, in Lebanon, one is never too sure exactly how many are boycotting or apathetic given the census quandary. Which makes a blank vote all the more important. The voter is asserting his/her presence, both physically and politically.

  4. 0.83%, that is.

  5. Where did you get your numbers? I checked the French and Arabic versions, and they seemed to be the same (and have the same mistakes) as the English versions.

    While it’s true that there’s no way of knowing officially who is voting blank in the Chouf, I have it on firsthand knowledge from former PSP youth that there are a lot of disaffected people in the Chouf. As a matter of fact, one young man stood up not too long ago and told Jumblatt during a meeting that there were going to be a lot of blank votes this year. But the Christians might also be upset…

    I’ll go check out +961 for the khara picture, thanks for the tip! Mnshoufik qaribaan bi Beirut insh’allah!

  6. […] went down well with eleven thousand one hundred and ninety-seven voters, or 0.82% of cast ballots (Sean has a table with the breakdown of blank votes per district). It might not seem much, but one has to keep in […]

  7. I got them from the Arabic version of the Ministry of Interior website, since I assume the rest are translated from that. And now I see that it is missing from the English version. Ah well, practice makes perfect.

    Inshallah qariban. Just make sure they keep themselves under control until next week.

  8. […] protest vote Speaking of protest votes, yesterday, I saw this wonderful picture in the centerfold of al-Akhbar. Ms Tee, who has a […]

  9. I remember looking at Jbeil last night in Arabic, French and English to see that there was a problem with all of them. So I assumed that they were all like that. I’ll check again and update the table tonight. Thanks for the tip!

  10. I had a personal problem with the blank vote and no voting at all, I decided to not vote as a protest, because I personally think a blank vote means not approving of the candidates, but approving the electoral system!
    Anyway I didnt have much choice to vote or not vote anyway because my flight got delayed and I arrived on Sunday night!

    But, what about, next elections we make I donno, purple papers, and use them as our votes, and we’ll be differing them from the WHITE PAPER, in hope that they get counted differently.
    White paper = I do not approve the candidates
    Purple paper = I do not approve the whole electoral system.

    Anyway good job on the counting, I came from Ms Tee to this post (she wrote a wonderful post as well)

  11. […] with blank ballots. I needed more sources, but only had a short time to turn it around. Thanks to Sean Lee for turning me on to it, and the Feminist Collective blog for a cool post on it. I wasn’t […]

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