Citizens of Colombia were surprised to learn Monday that the blank vote, or protest vote, has no effect on the second round of a presidential election.
“So what happens with the blank vote in the second round?” asked Maria after she heard the announcement that President Juan Manuel Santos and the candidate of former President Alvaro Uribe, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, would face each other in a second round run off for the presidency.
Her friend, Zuka, replied promptly: “Nothing. Whoever gets the most votes now wins.”
Maria’s face went blank when she heard the news of the vote. The 23-year-old from Bogota was not the only one however to ask that question after Sunday’s results.
As soon as it became clear that Colombia’s options for its next leader was narrowed down to Zuluaga and Santos, Twitter and social media groups exploded with calls for voting blank in June 15’s second round of elections. These messages, dominated by the country’s youth, were filled with hopes that the power of the constitutionally guaranteed protest vote could wipe the ballot clean of the two presented candidates.
There was just one problem: the blank vote does not have an effect on a second round. Whoever gets the most votes between Zuluaga and Santos during the second round of elections, will be Colombia’s next president.
The blank vote has had an enormous surge in popularity over the past year. During the congressional elections, the blank vote nearly gained 6% in both the House and Senate, and just missed 6% in Sunday’s presidential elections by .01%, both historic records. The protest vote even won this weekend in one small municipality with over 50% of the vote.
The cause of this newfound support has largely been due to the proliferation of the knowledge of the power that the blank vote actually has: if the blank vote wins the election, all candidates are disqualified from that race, and parties are offered the opportunity to put forth a new set of names if they choose in an immediate re-election.
The catch is — as Colombian media rushed to explain Monday morning — that the powerful protest vote works for the first round of presidential elections, but not the second round.
“I have here our wonderful constitution, full of holes and inconsistencies — now we cannot vote blank…?!” said one angry student sharing a popular meme explaining the uselessness of the blank vote in a second round.
He aquí nuestra maravillosa constitución llena de vacíos e inconsistencias, ahora si ya no puedo votar en blanco…?! pic.twitter.com/p2T2FSnWbP
— Luisa Fernanda RM (@LUISARAME) May 26, 2014
The problem is constitutional according to one National Registry registrar, Carlos Sanchez, who affirmed to El Espectador newspaper that while Colombia’s legal document spells out the functionality of the blank vote in a first round election, it never mentions affecting a second round.
According to Article 9 of Legislative Act 01 of 2009, which clarified the use of the blank vote constitutionally, “The voting should be repeated just one more time in order to elect members of a public office, governorship, mayor’s office, or the first round in the presidential elections when the blank votes constitute the majority of all of the valid votes.”
There is no mention of a second round blank vote win triggering a re-election or the dismissal of the candidates.
“In the second round, the blank vote does not produce any result,” said Sanchez.
Yet the blank vote option will stay on the ballots to allow citizens the option to protest the two candidates if they’d like.
“The National Registry considers that [the blank vote] should appear because the people have the right to vote in this form,” said Sanchez.
Colombia’s second round of presidential elections will take place June 15.
- Voto en Blanco (Registraduria)
- Voto en blanco no produce ningún efecto para segunda vuelta: Registraduría (El Espectador)
- Voto en blanco no tendrá efectos en la segunda vuelta (Terra)
- En Piedras (Tolima) ganó el voto en blanco (El Tiempo)