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Local Column

Reasons why voters cast blank ballots

Why cast a blank ballot?

That’s what 17 DeKalb County voters did in the most recent election, according to totals from DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder Doug Johnson’s office.

In so doing, they participated more than 90% of the registered voters in DeKalb County.

But why go to all the trouble of going to the polls or mailing in an absentee ballot if you’re not going to vote for anyone? Several people do this in every DeKalb County election, Johnson said. There could be any number of reasons.

One possibility is that these blank ballots are protest votes, people voting the punk-rock ticket by leaving the whole thing blank.

“It could be that,” Johnson said. “One of the other things that we’ve determined that it is, is someone that’s being forced by a boss, spouse or a union forcing them to vote. They grab their ballot, they go into the booth, cast their ballot, get their ‘I Voted’ sticker and say, ‘I voted.’ That’s a pretty normal thing.”

Johnson told me about a young woman he’d talked with once who was in that situation.

“She goes, ‘I’ve got to vote; if I don’t, my dad will kill me,’ ” Johnson said. “That’s when I woke up to the fact that there’s people that vote that are under duress, or someobody’s telling them, ‘You’ve got to.’ ”

For some people, having that “I Voted” sticker is really important. I did post a photo of my own sticker on Twitter, so I get that. State law even mandates that any jurisdiction that gives out the stickers cannot deny them to any voter, presumably even those who leave their ballot unmarked or spoil it.

“One of my elections we were running out,” Johnson said. “They get old, the stickers, so we didn’t want to buy a bunch. ... We started running low and kind of ran out, and oh, my, I caught more flak about not having stickers than anything.”

Sometimes voters don’t follow the rules, too. They put an “X” or a check mark in the bubbles for voting options, which are supposed to be filled in completely. But the vote-counting scanners are pretty sensitive, Johnson said, and should be able to read those marks most of the time.

There is a lot of public pressure to vote. It is critical to the functioning of our government – the people in office should be there because of popular will. But voting should be something you do because you want to, not because you’re being compelled.

For the most part, casting a blank ballot doesn’t do anything to advance (or hurt) the causes of individual candidates. It is a statement, although what it’s meant to say may differ from voter to voter. So long as that’s what they mean to do, more power to them.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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