What Can Make a Vote Invalid?

June 7, 2023

Declaring a vote invalid is serious and should not be taken lightly. However, there are a number of reasons a vote may be considered invalid. There are several rules surrounding elections for a good reason, and violating those rules can lead to invalidating votes.

Given the controversy surrounding the most recent federal election in the US and mail-in voting, for this article’s purposes, we won’t be discussing state or federal votes; instead, we will focus on corporate and organizational voting. However, some of the rationale for invalidating votes we will describe below can also apply to government votes. 

Reasons to Invalidate a Vote

The choice to invalidate a vote is up to an organization, corporation, or governing body. Here are some of the most common reasons a vote may be invalidated:

Deadlines Not Met

The simplest reason a vote can be invalidated is the ballot needed to be filled out by the submission deadline. This can take a variety of forms, such as mail-in ballots needing to be postmarked or received by the deadline. 

In small organizations, a member may be allowed to vote late due to extenuating circumstances. In most cases, however, this is not allowed. This is because overturning the results of a vote is highly contentious and can become a breeding ground for disagreements and lawsuits.

Conflicts of Interest

This is a rare reason to invalidate a vote, but an important one. A conflict of interest prohibition on voting does not apply to an ordinary member or shareholder; it is typically reserved for corporate boardrooms. A board member who stands to benefit personally from a board vote or a board member who sits on multiple boards of other corporations could both have their votes invalidated.

In ideal circumstances, a board member remedies any questionable votes, but many shareholder and corporate lawsuits have been filed over conflicts of interest when board members refuse to recuse themselves. 

Ballots Not Marked Properly

Examples of improperly marked ballots are unsigned ballots, ballots on which multiple options were selected, or any other disqualifying elements of a mismarked ballot. This is typically only an issue with paper balloting. 

Vote Rigging, Intimidation, or Misrepresentation

This is one of the worst scenarios, as it implies multiple votes or the entire vote may be invalidated. Common examples are offering voters money or other perks if they vote a certain way or threatening voters with consequences should they not vote in a manner the perpetrator wishes. 

Another example that typically falls under this category is what is known as a “false vote.” A false vote is a vote that was cast to deceive, such as a vote cast by someone using someone else's name or ballot. This is a misrepresentation of an actual vote and is typically considered invalid as a result. 

Quorum Requirements

Quorum is taking a headcount of all the voters present. If the threshold of the minimum percentage of voters is not present, a vote may be canceled or delayed. 

For example, if there are a hundred voters eligible and only twenty of them are present to cast their vote by show of hands (this is known as a tabulation vote), the vote may be canceled altogether or delayed until a minimum number of voters are present. In the modern world of online voting and mail-in voting, quorum invalidation may be caused by only a minority of voters casting their votes. 

Quorum requirements exist to prevent a minority of voters from making decisions for the majority, thereby unfairly imposing the minority will on the majority. 

Wrapping Up

Transparent and legal voting is one of the cornerstones of democracy. With a bit of practice and foresight, you can make sure any votes you hold or participate in don’t risk being invalidated.

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