An act where an individual capable of voting chooses not to participate or vote.
In election procedure, abstention happens when an eligible voter decides against voting. Abstentions are common in almost every voting endeavor, whether for public office or even in a small decision body.
On election days, abstention occurs when an eligible voter chooses not to go to the polls, which expresses their displeasure or lack of interest in participation. However, in smaller but important elections, abstention is as powerful as voting "Yes" or "No" since it sends a message. Abstention shows that the voter is not impressed with any of the alternatives under the ballot.
The failure to vote is a choice, and people choose to abstention or abstain to express their preferences. When the stakes of the election are high, such as a presidential election, abstention expresses indifference or the view that the voter does not see any benefit in either candidate's victory. Abstention shows equal disgust or equal satisfaction with both choices in an election.
Example of Abstention
In the town of Dale, it is election day to elect a new Mayor. Joe does not approve or disapprove of either candidate. He does not care who will win; because of this, Joe decides to skip the polls and exercise his right to abstention.
In large-scale elections, abstention is a tool used by alienated voters to express their indifference. An alienated voter who feels the political system doesn't work for them expresses "equal disgust" by abstention from voting. A voter can abstain from voting by failing to show up to the polling station on the election date. Abstention becomes the voter's way of showing their dissatisfaction with elections in general.
Abstention also occurs by nullifying a vote intentionally. Some voters choose to make their votes spoilt by drawing a large "X" or a cartoon character on the ballot. This way, the vote will be discarded as invalid for the election.
Significance of Abstention
Abstention has vast implications for the voter and the political system they participate in. Withholding a vote might mean that a wrong or dangerous candidate gets elected to power. This makes the lives of everyone, including the abstaining or alienated voter, difficult.
In small bodies that make decisions such as parliament, abstention can delay progress when attendance fails to reach the quorum. Where a form makes majority decisions, abstention can present barriers to expedite decision making, especially on essential matters. Where quorum matters, abstention is as powerful as voting 'No.'
Abstention vs. Protest Vote
Abstention is often confused with a protest vote, but the similarities are constrained only to a few circumstances. A protest vote, also known as a null, spoiled, blank, or "None of the above," is a vote cast to express dissatisfaction. For the protest voter, spoiling and even defacing the vote expresses dissatisfaction with lack of representation or the entire political process.
Abstention or the failure to participate in a vote can be seen as a form of a protest vote. But, when someone is uninterested in politics or voting, abstention is not considered a protest vote. Protest voters often show up and make a point by choosing the "None of the above."