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Friday, November 12, 2010


My colleague Brian Taylor sent me an interesting academic article about the use of "none of the above" (NOTA) in post-Soviet Russia, published in 2008 and titled "Voting 'Against All' in Postcommunist Russia," by Ian McAllister and Stephen White.  (See my earlier post, "Still Not the One.") 

From 1993 to 2006, Russian voters had the option of voting "against all" in elections to the lower house (Duma) of their Federal Assembly, and in their presidential elections.  NOTA was started in order to boost participation in a society with little faith in competitive elections.  The option grew in popularity after its inception, and in 2003, almost 13 percent of Duma voters chose NOTA, making it the second most popular choice in terms of party affiliation.  For at least part of its existence, the NOTA provision had real bite, in that election results would be invalidated if NOTA were to finish first.

The measure became increasingly controversial among academics and reformers, and was dealt perhaps a fatal blow when the Constitutional Court ruled that private funds could be used in campaigning for NOTA in a way that, according to the article, "appeared impossible to regulate."  One powerful argument against it was to point out that NOTA was extremely rare in Western democracies.  Furthermore, a change in election law eliminated the single-member district, where NOTA had been most popular and where, theoretically, it made the most sense (and indeed, that is the context in which I have advocated for it).  The authors draw on post-election surveys to show that NOTA voters "do no reject liberal democracy, but are critical of the contemporary practice of Russian politics and find no parties that reflect their views."  Demographically, they are "younger than other voters, more urban and more highly educated."  The authors predicted in 2008 that its elimination would lead to lower turnout.