Sam Chang

This conversation is closed.

Improve all democracies in the world, implement the Negative Vote.

Almost all the democracies in the world suffer from a common phenomenon where a minority, often the more extreme elements, could hijack a major party and force the society as a whole into conflicts that the majority population does not like. We see this kind of situation in the United States, in Israel, in Taiwan, etc. repeated again and again.

My proposal is to let people have the right to cast a Negative Vote in all elections. Each voter would still be entitled to cast only one vote, he/she may cast the vote for a candidate or against a candidate, but not both. Winner is the person who gets the most net positive votes, i.e. the person whose YES votes minus NO votes is the highest.

I believe over time this will prevent the extreme elements from winning any significant political office. Political rhetoric will also naturally move away from extreme rhetoric and more toward the middle. Eventually even the news media might find it difficult to help spread the extreme rhetoric because people aspiring for power or politics will learn quickly that extremism will attract the most NO votes and block them from such power in a democracy.

Voter participation will increase and the election results will more accurately reflect the people’s will.

In a democracy, I should have the right to say, through the ballot, “NO, I do not want this person to be in power”. This should be a basic right.

I’ve started a social group on Facebook called Allow NO Vote in Elections. It is public and I hope you will join and help spread the message.

  • Dec 31 2013: Sam I quote you said in your response Freedom to choose is an essence of democracy. That is so true my friend, we also have a freedom not to choose which is still the essence of democracy. In all democracies not everyone votes or allowed to vote. That creates an uneven situation where reality dictates that when people vote not all will be equal in terms of numbers.

    The picture I painted of party A to part D is what is currently happening here in RSA where the ANC had an overwhelming majority of votes and if we applied negative voting as you say we would not have any minority representation in parliament and the major party can do as they please. But because minority still keep their votes as small as they are, the minority still plays a fundamental role in our democracy. The cancelation of one vote by another would have denied them this democratic right and also denied them access to parliament.
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      Dec 31 2013: Hi, Samkelo. RSA is not unique that there is a dominant ruling party. Singapore comes to mind immediately. I suspect in both countries (like many other countries), a lot of people just sit out the election because they feel powerless to change the status quo. I also believe many of these same group of people would go to the polls if they are given the chance to vote NO, the Negative Vote, either against the ruling party or against the candidate of the ruling party. Allowing people to cast a Negative Vote does not prevent any one from choosing to not vote which is the freedom to not choose you talked about. I am not advocating forcing anyone to do anything at all. I am saying that we should have the right to vote NO.
      I can appreciate your concern that the voters who vote for ANC might be told by its leadership to cast votes in a certain way such that some will be allocated to cast positive votes and some will be will be allocated to cast negative votes. A foolish leader might attempt that, he/she will soon find out it will backfire. People who have the freedom to vote will treasure their votes and will not listen to such directive. Will the ANC be able to claim overwhelming mandate to lead if their popular vote percentage drops from 69% to 38%( in your scenario)?

      Again, I see the Negative Vote as a basic right every voter should have, it is a choice denied in the existing systems.
  • Dec 29 2013: I'm not sure how negative voting would actually effect the outcomes of elections, but I think it would make negative campaigning tactics rampant. I understand why you think it would do the opposite, but in the US it's rare for negative campaigning to be met with backlash on a large scale. Ideally, a negative voting system would allow the electorate to be accurately represented. The problem is that it gives politicians a much greater incentive to have extremely negative campaigns to have the most undecided voters go out and down vote a demonized candidate. It's hard to like any politician, and it's really easy to hate them.

    I think that requiring voters to vote for two different parties would solve that problem much better. By requiring two votes, the interests of highly mobilized extremist parties is negated because they will most likely vote for a more moderate party with similar beliefs. The problem with this approach is that it makes it near impossible for fringe parties to gain power, but it would certainly bring a more reasonable voice to political discourse. At the same time however, it gives fringe parties far more influence on elections, forcing major parties to break party lines to appeal to them.
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      Dec 30 2013: Negative campaigning already exists. Negative vote does not yet exists (except perhaps as Jimmy Strobl in this forum says it is practiced in his party in Sweden). Many voters I know among the younger generation do not go to the polls because they distrust the politicians and their promises, for good reasons. The same people all reacted very positively when I explained this Negative Vote concept to them and say they would then go the polls. If Negative Vote achieves significant increase in voter participation, that in itself would be a very good improvement for democracy.
      As I have explained elsewhere already, I also see this as a basic right we should have. I as a voter should have the right to express my objection to a particular person becoming my leader with my ballot, regardless of how I might or might not be influenced by negative campaigning. The existing powers should not use that excuse (or any other excuse) to bar me from exercising this basic right. If that is a valid reason to deny a basic right, one can probably come up with many other reasons.
  • Dec 18 2013: Hmmm, now that I've given it some more thought, I'm not so sure its good idea.
    It may well cross the line from neutralizing the influence of overly powerful minorities, to wiping out their voting power completely.

    This negative vote system can easily devolve into a situation where there is no opposition to speak of. It has the potential to turn democratic election into a majority ruled dictatorship.

    Forcing everyone to vote sounds like a more practical solution for neutralizing overly powerful special interest groups, without scrapping the entire democratic concept in the process.
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      Dec 19 2013: Nadav, I see Negative Vote as a basic right we should have in a democracy. As a voter I should have the right to use my ballot to say "I do not want X to be my leader". If Negative Vote is available, a rational person would choose to cast his vote for a candidate he supports and not waste it on a Negative Vote, unless he feels so strongly against one person that he feels he must cast that Negative Vote. Will it wipe out minority voting power? Only if the minority candidate takes a position or uses political rhetoric that is so extreme such that candidate attracts a lot of Negative Votes. That would be democracy in action. I don't see how you can call majority ruled government majority "dictatorship". I did have Israel in mind when I thought of this proposal. I was told by one of my Israeli friends that Israel has a politically extreme minority group whose children are exempt from military services but the group takes the most hardened positions on peace discussions with Palestine.
      The Negative Vote should be suitable in any group that elects its leader, even in China where there is no democracy but elections do take place. I can easily imagine that in its Central Committee discussions, some people voted NO against Bo Xi-Lai.
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        Dec 19 2013: This negative vote idea assumes that people are rational and they weigh their choices through careful thought.
        Nothing can be further from the truth, people can be easily manipulated by the majority leadership through various means into wiping out the minorities. Besides, people are far more likely to cast negative votes than positive votes.
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          Dec 20 2013: Democracy assumes people will vote rationally. Negative Vote simply provides a choice, a basic right, that has been denied. . A classmate of mine raised the scenario that all candidates received more negative votes than positive votes. My response is in that scenario, the will of the voters are very clear: the election should be reheld and these losers should be barred from being candidates again.
      • Dec 19 2013: Think about it this way. I have 2 groups, lets call them A and B. A has a narrow majority of 60%, while B comprises the rest of the populace (B is a group comprised of everyone outside the majority, and is not necessarily homogenous).
        Lets say the people of A are relatively well organized. So they go to the ballots on election day, and make sure that 40% of the total votes are cast as negatives for all the other parties, while the rest of their 20% are normal votes for their party.
        A's party now has 100% of the congress seats and elected officials. No opposition to be found, just like in a dictatorship. They can pass any law they want, and revoke any other law at will, even the ones that require a special majority (say 75% of a full congress, a normally unreachable goal reserved for laws that require things like holding democratic elections--at least that's how these types of laws are defended where I live).

        So essentially, the negative vote system can wipe our your democracy.

        Fringe minority groups that for some reason or another have disproportionate amounts of power are a major problem in some parts of the world, but the negative vote isn't the answer.
        Again, mandatory voting is probably a better way of achieving the same objective.

        Also, it should be noted that in places like the US there are only two major parties, the negative vote would do precisely nothing, other then perhaps allow for the democracy cancelling loophole I mentioned above.
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          Dec 20 2013: The technical details of how Negative Vote might be adopted will be different for each country or district. A friend had voiced concern that the winner might be someone who has won very few gross positive votes. If that is a concern, then it would be necessary to establish a minimum threshold of gross votes to be won, if that threshold does not exist already. For Singapore which is historically dominated by one party, that country might adopt a relatively high threshold. For countries used to multi-party systems, that threshold might be low. For countries used to two-party systems such as U.S., that threshold might be somewhat in-between the foregoing. You described a hypothetical parliamentary election where the winners collectively received only 20% of the gross votes cast while opposition collectively received 40%, can they claim they have the popular mandate? How would the winning party allocate the 20% positive votes among its own party candidates? Will that party's candidates be so obedient? Will the voters be so obedient to be told whether he will vote yes or no against whom? If they are, we are not talking about a democratic country.
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        Dec 20 2013: I still don't see how negative votes are going to improve democracy in any way other than needlessly complicating it.
        Negative votes or not political parties will always find ways to buy votes by employing manipulative strategies and intimidation, especially in developing nations.
        In my opinion, the only way by which democracy can be improved is to have educated voters asking informed questions. If majority of the people are actively monitoring governmental policies and asking questions if the government is corrupt and/or inefficient, then the politicians will have no choice but to improve governance if they hope to be re-elected.
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          Dec 20 2013: Sri, one of my own brothers feels the same way as you do, so you are in good company. Complicated or not, don't you think this is a basic right? I as a voter should have the right to say, through my ballot, " NO, I do not wish this person to become my leader." Don't you think voter participation will increase if Negative Vote is allowed? If voter participation increases, that in itself is a big improvement of democracy. The election results will more accurately reflect what the voters feel about the candidates, compared to present election systems.
      • Dec 20 2013: You'd be surprised how organized some groups of voters can be actually. It usually doesn't happen because the current system gives you no incentive to organize, but that'll change soon enough with a system that does. In places with a ranked system for example (like a party's internal election to decide what list they're running with), they organize just fine.
        And the exact numbers aren't what's important. A group with a majority of 80% can still cancel out democracy using a one time landslide election.

        The system is too open for exploitation. Mandatory voting on the other hand, would degrade overly powerful minority's voting power, but won't cancel democracy in the process.
  • Dec 18 2013: An interesting concept, I must admit.
    I live in a country with minority fringe elements have far more power then they should (Israel, correctly mentioned above as a trouble spot), so I admit its got some appeal to it.

    I would however, like to see a trial run before its implemented on any major scale. The system might have unforeseen problems.

    A potentially easier fix is to make it unlawful not to vote (at least without a proper excuse, like being out of the country or too sick to get out of bed). Extremist groups typically have much higher voting percentages, and this would help neutralize their effects.
    I can't think of any democratic ideal that encourages forcing people to vote, but I'm a practical man--ideology holds no interest to me, only results.
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    Jan 15 2014: Someone asked in Taiwan, would not Negative Vote be used by the major parties to allocate votes and shut out my small party candidate?

    My response:
    In Taiwan, Negative Vote will bring out many voters in the middle who are sick and tired of the two major parties’ senseless fights. The Negative Votes they cast will be cast against candidates from these two parties who are the most extreme, e.g. those legislative representatives who instigate physical violence in the parliament. If a small party representative has behaved and does not engage in smear tactics during election campaign, he/she will not attract this kind of Negative Votes.

    If the two major parties engage in vote allocation, the small parties will benefit also under present conditions. Every voter that can be directed to vote Yes or No must be someone who is very loyal to that party, each Negative Vote so directed against someone would also mean that party’s candidate has one fewer vote of support (because every voter has only one vote). To whom would these “allocated Negative Vote” be cast against? Against the other major party’s candidate of course, it would not be used against a small party or its candidate.
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    Jan 9 2014: A friend in Taiwan wrote an e-mail to me and expressed concern that Negative Vote would lead to more negative campaign.

    My response: Negative campaign already exists. It will not necessarily increase or decrease because the voters have the choice to cast a Negative Vote. You think it will increase but I think it will decrease because the middle-electorate will use their ballots to show their objection to candidates who use smear tactics. In a baseball or basketball game, the fans often would boo some player they do not like. Should I be prohibited from booing because it might lead to more booing by others? Should the fans be restricted to only clapping their hands to show approval or keep silent? The current election systems basically restrict the voters to clapping hands only or keep silent.
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    Jan 7 2014: We are on United Daily News, the largest newspaper in Taiwan! A well-known political commentator has commented on our proposal in his column today. It is all in Chinese. In his usual style, he started with an anecdote in ancient Chinese history, how a difficult situation was dealt with wisely, and concluded with the comment that the Negative Vote proposal might be an effective tool in modern Taiwan politics.
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    Jan 2 2014: I am confident the Negative Vote idea will win acceptance quickly and become a legislative reality somewhere in some democracy, probably within 3 to 10 years. Social media such as Facebook can help spread the message quickly. That is why I started the group on Facebook. Most of us who have Facebook typically have more than 100 friends. If each member invites 100 of his friends to join, it will take only 2 such repetitions to reach 1 million. If each member invites just 2 other new members, it will take no more than 12 repetitions from today's membership. I expect 1 million to be exceeded this year. Once the group membership reaches that scale, some politician will step up to propose legislative change. At bigger scale of membership, citizen initiatives to introduce legislation can be done.
  • Dec 30 2013: Chang its an interesting ideology. I fully agree with you that you should have the democratic right to choose who you want to lead you. Democratic systems are complex and vary. For instance in the US they elect the president from the floor here in South Africa we vote for a political party and we don't choose whom we want as a president the party that you vote for does. This has implications of its own, noteworthy the public cannot remove the president unless through a coup and other means (only the political party can remove him from office and/or himself /herself resigns).

    Hypothetically let say we working with 100 voters who happen to equal 100%.

    Party A=69%
    Party B=10%
    Party C=5%
    Party D=7%
    Party E=9%

    For argument sake lets say party B to E is not satisfied with part A who has majority votes and they all decide to vote against party A. Party A will still have 38% of votes and have total rulership and the minority parties will be completely silenced vote wise. Of course it can happen the other way around when people are not satisfied with their own party but still we have no guarantee that they will vote against it or if they willing to transfer power to someone else. Its more prudent to vote for someone else that might offer you something different than just to say I don't want party A or B. The role of minority parties is immense especially for young democracies like ours.
    When these minority parties are silenced vote wise and have no power democracy will remain a dream.

    Think of it like an exam at school if you get 50% for writing the right answers and negative 50% for writing the wrong answers what do you gain?
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      Dec 31 2013: Hi, Samkelo. You expressed similar concern as Nadav Tropp did. Let's start with your school analogy. Using that analogy, if someone (or some party) has 50% support and 50% against, under today's system where only positive votes are allowed, that someone or party will win and claim an overwhelming mandate to lead. If Negative Votes are allowed, that same person or party will have 50% positive votes and 50% negative votes, which of these two results reflect the true will of the people? I respectfully submit it is the latter and this is one of the reasons why Negative Vote should be allowed and why it is an improvement for democracy: it allows a better reflection of the people's will.

      The hypothetical scenario you described assumes people will follow obediently instructions on how they should cast their positive or negative votes. That is not a democratic country. Freedom to choose is an essence of democracy. The small parties will not disappear as long as they have a core group of supporters. A fringe party that advocates an extremist position might attract the most negative votes from the electorate in the middle who are often tolerant of different political views but do not like the extreme left or extreme right. If such a party does not gain power because it attracted more negative votes than positive votes, that would be democracy in action.
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    Dec 28 2013: Interesting idea. However, the system could also be played against the ideal of making a more democratic system. As it often happens, sometimes you don't have the luxury but to choose the better of two devils. Casting a negative vote would to candidate A would be of advantage for candidate B. Of course, as you said, candidates' legitimacy can be weighted by the percentage of positive and negative votes he gains. Then if B candidate were to besmirch the opponent, this is giving him/her a "legitimate" way to do so by paying voters to vote negatively on A. (Although of course vote buying is a problem that already persist even without the negative vote). Or as suggested in one of the previous comments, certain political parties can organize voters to cast positive votes for their candidate and negative votes for the opponent. I don't see how this improves the current "democracy".

    I think the problem with democracy is more of uninformed voters - thus the solution should be how to address and educate voters to vote responsibly. I also think that information on candidates should all come from the election committee of your country, not the parties - then each candidate can have the same or equal reach to constituent, instead of their outreach being determined by their financial power and outreach.

    Instead of casting negative vote on specific candidate, how about simply casting NO VOTE, meaning you don't support either candidate. That way we can measure the real support that selected candidates get through the election. So, if you have 50% NO VOTE, 20% candidate A, 30% candidate B, that means candidate B has only 30% legitimacy through the election. The 50% simply is a lost vote - it doesn't support any candidates nor disfigure any. But it does show the real shape of the people's inclinations about whom to put in power.
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      Dec 28 2013: Dewi, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      Negative Vote does not give anyone or any group extra power to besmirch the opponent. That already exists. Negative Vote does give the little guy, the voter a choice that is not currently available. Freedom to choose goes along with the essence of democracy. I am saying we should have this choice in our voting as a basic right.

      Your proposal of just casting NO VOTE but the vote itself has no power would not work. It is counter to the principle of one person one vote. The Negative Vote should have as much power as the positive vote. If it is just an expression of opinion, why would anyone bother to go to the polls to cast it? It will therefore not increase voter participation as the Negative Vote will. As I have said previously, if Negative Vote can increase voter participation, that in itself would be a big improvement for democracy.
      To reduce the influence of extremists and their rhetoric, the Negative Vote must not be modified to become just an expression of opinion.
      I am all for education and fair distribution of information etc., none of it conflicts with Negative Vote.
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    Dec 25 2013: Comment from a friend in my e-mail:

    I think the negative vote is an interesting idea. However, it may further accentuate the one big fault of democracy: politicians giving away what governments cannot afford, and not facing up to painful reforms or higher taxes necessary. Often times, doing the right thing is far from popular, and the intended results generally take time to realize. Think Margaret Thatcher, she probably would have gotten lots of negative votes, and would not have had time to carry out the reforms necessary. In addition, any war time Presidents, even if fighting for just cause or were forced into doing so, would probably find it hard to get re-elected. Just my 2 cents...
    • Dec 25 2013: That's more of an argument against democracy in general then about the negative vote...
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        Dec 25 2013: Nadav, I agree with you. My response to my friend include the following:

        Implementing Negative Vote might result in shutting out a visionary leader temporarily along with a lot of extremists, although I doubt that. A true visionary with powerful positive ideas will not be shut out for long, even when there is no democracy, witness Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

        If Negative Vote only increases voter participation, which it will, that by itself would be a big improvement for democracy.
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    Dec 22 2013: Thanks. Come and join us in the Facebook social group and spread the message.
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    Dec 20 2013: Get rid of elections - apply a selection process as is practised to appoint juries.
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      Dec 22 2013: I am not familiar with the jury selection process, how does it work and how is it better than elections?
  • Dec 19 2013: Agree with the concept, need to put it into action by changing election laws. For that, a political party and/or action group need to embrace the idea and get it into the system.
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      Dec 19 2013: An action group has been started. See the above Facebook link above. At this initial phase, we can all contribute to grow the membership by (a) share the link on Facebook or Twitter to spread the message and (b) inviting our Facebook buddies to join.
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    Dec 18 2013: In a liquid democracy you have the negative vote. At least in the models practiced here in Sweden.
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      Dec 19 2013: That is interesting. Can you cast a vote against a candidate and have that vote counted against the positive vote in Sweden? Jess Brewer, a professor in Canada had this same idea of Negative Vote back in 2007 and has a website that is dedicated to the research of this subject. See the link below. Jess had told me that he could not find any example of the Negative Vote in practice. Would you please explain how it is done in Sweden? Thanks.
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        Dec 19 2013: Well, our system is not in power (yet), but my party uses a form of electronic direct democracy called liquid democracy or delegative democracy.

        Liquid democracy:
        Delegative democracy:

        We have a couple of different voting options right now and it's ever evolving, in accordance to the majorities will.

        They are: creating lists of priority, yes/no and median vote.

        Both with the list and yes/no vote you have the active option of down-voting a proposal (which can be anything, including people for different positions).

        Here's our (very out of date) manifesto in english:
        And we're not alone in the world with having an E2D (electronic direct democracy) system, there are currently at least 14 countries that are trying the model.

        Check out which is also out of date...
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          Dec 20 2013: Thanks for the links to Liquid democracy and Delegative democracy. Voting against a policy proposal is different from the Negative Vote I am proposing which is casting a vote against a candidate. That will serve 3 goals: (a) reduce extremists' influence, (b) increase voter participation, and (c) it is a basic right that should be available in a democracy. I don't think either Liquid democracy or Delegative democracy accomplishes these 3 goals. With internet, Liquid democracy as described will allow more direct participation by the voters of policy making, I support that.
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        Dec 20 2013: It actually does, since we use the same system to vote for candidates. And people are able to up-vote, down-vote or pass on any candidate. In most E2D systems you can vote on both candidates AND policy proposals.

        So it passes the abc's.

        I'm sorry that we don't have better information material in English, it'll come soon hopefully.
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          Dec 20 2013: Wow, I am very glad to know that there IS a system in practice that already adopts the Negative Vote concept. Is it described in Swedish? Would you please post a link to that description? I have a good friend in Sweden and I can ask him to translate for me. Thanks.
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        Dec 20 2013: Well, our party is going through some major changes since we're merging with another E2D party here. So regrettably the manifesto that I posted is perhaps the best comprehensive description there is right now.

        But your friend can always visit the our forum and get a comprehensive picture.

        But what I really advice is starting one of these parties yourself in Taiwan. All the software that we use is opensource and the same is true for most other parties around the world. To get some assistance with this I recommend going to the forum section of E2D international.
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          Dec 20 2013: Thanks for the links. I could not find in the forum discussions any example of an election where a negative vote is counted against the positive votes for a candidate or delegate. Has it been done in any of the E2D parties?
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    Dec 18 2013: By the way, I now vote, not because I know more about politics, but because I've noticed that the majority is more ignorant than me.
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    Dec 18 2013: Not so long ago I didn't vote because I felt too ignorant to give my opinion. People I know who don't vote believe voting keeps the flawed system running. Negative votes wouldn't encourage them, as they already know that a NO vote equals a YES vote for the other asshole.

    I think there should be a place on internet where people who don't vote check their reasons not to vote.
    A - I don't care or don't know enough about politics
    B - I hate both candidates
    C - I don't believe in voting because I don't think people know what's best for themselves.

    And this poll should be taken into account. For instance, if many people hate both candidates, the time of office should be reduced for the winning candidate.
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      Dec 18 2013: Assume there are 3 candidates and I am somewhat indifferent about 2 of them but really do not want the third person to be in power, Negative Vote will allow me to vote against that person. Present elections systems do not allow that.
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        Dec 18 2013: Good point.
        I'm joining and I want a Tshirt.
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          Dec 19 2013: Great. The group needs every member's help to grow the membership. If each new member invites just 2 other new Facebook buddies as members and this process is repeated, it will take no more than 13 repetitions from the current base to reach 1 million. Once the membership has grown, you can bet there will be politicians jumping on board to propose legislative change. T shirt is a great idea. Perhaps we can run a contest for the best T shirt design, when we have more members.
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          Jan 5 2014: Gerald,
          My son Anton drafted a design that might be used on a T-shirt. You might wish to go to our group's Facebook page to check it out.

          The group size has grown to over 1000 in 2 months. Join us and invite your friends to join so we can all contribute to make this a reality.
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    Dec 18 2013: I think what you're really wanting to do is replace the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) voting system with the Ranked voting system. FPTP is what most countries (including Taiwan) uses now. The Ranked vote would provide the same thing as your 'NO' vote by simply placing the unwanted candidate in the last position.
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      Dec 18 2013: Lawren, What I am proposing is different from FPTP or Ranked voting system. Neither of which will increase voter participation as the Negative Vote will. How often do we hear a winner claim that he/she has the popular mandate even though many voters refused to vote because the candidates were all unattractive. If Negative Vote is implemented, all will see who receives the most positive votes and who receives the most negative votes (i.e. most despised). The extremists will not be elected.