As a U.S. citizen I can walk into a polling place in a few weeks and vote for whoever I desire. I have done this in several past elections. However, in every case I did not want the person I voted for to be elected into office. I simply disliked them slightly less than their competitor. This got me to thinking, why can't an election allow "negative" votes? As in, why can we not say "no" to candidates but only "yes"?

The most obvious problem I can think of is "What if no one wins?" Well, so what? The office is simply unfilled until a suitable candidate runs for the office and is chosen by the people. This will necessitate repeat elections but I see no reason why this is impossible.

  • Robert Sheckley's novel „A Ticket To Tranai“ suggests one solution on downvoting to remove the official from office. :) Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 19:17
  • I usually like the concepts of "marbles" when there are elections, or decisions to be made against several possible cases. One gets a fixed number of "marbles" and can distribute them on all possible candidates/solutions/cases. There is probably a fancy name for such system.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 20:11
  • Imagine an election (perhaps the previous one for US President) where one candidate had less of a negative vote than the other...
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 17:39

7 Answers 7


There are a number of voting systems in the literature which allow negative voting in some sense. Some of the better known ones are approval voting, in which you vote for acceptable candidates and not for unacceptable ones and range voting In which you give every candidate a score. Assigning a score below the mean value for candidates is effectively a negative score. If the score is limited to 1 or 0 then these two are identical, and in a two party political system then so is plurality voting/ first past the post.

Arguments against the implementation of these type of schemes normally revolve around the perceived complexity of the scheme and thus the additional cost of voter education and of counting and auditing the final vote.

A minor variation to the schemes are to add a minimum approval level/score, or in the case of plurality voting a "Reopen nominations/None of the above" candidate. This is typically viewed as an even more unacceptable answer in terms of cost grounds for large elections, but is sometimes used by clubs and societies.

If your complaint is that no candidate is acceptable, then I'm afraid you need to look at reforming the methods used for the original nomination, or running yourself, both of which lie outside the scope of voting systems themselves.

  • "A minor variation to the schemes are to add a minimum approval level/score" This only makes sense when you average the votes instead of summing them.
    – endolith
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 15:27

Actually, a two party system (or a two-round voting system with a runoff between the top two candidates) allows exactly that. You can't really do anything else than avoid your least-preferred candidate from being elected. You do that by voting for another candidate but, once you realize the nature of the decision available to you, that's a detail.

By contrast, having many (viable) candidates always creates tactical questions: Should I vote for my favourite candidate? For the second or third best because they have at least a shot at winning or gaining enough vote to somehow influence the process? Or should I forget all that and vote at the candidate who has the best chance of beating another, realy bad, candidate (according to polls, the media or conventional wisdom)?

Beyond that, there are many reasons why the idea of undecided elections is not very popular (e.g. the costs of organizing repeated elections or the fact that what it actually means is that the previous government stays in place and/or that civil servants have even more power) but that's not even really related to negative votes, two-candidate elections, etc. For example, an absolute threshold in the number of votes (e.g. requiring a certain proportion of the whole population or of registered voters to be elected rather than a plurality of the vote) can seem intuitively appealing but has never, to my knowledge, been implemented for a national election, precisely because leaving an important office unfilled is a problem (unless, of course, you subscribe to radical small-government ideas, in which case the question seems moot and you might just as well do away with elections or democracy itself).


Because most of the world's election systems were put in place before the advent of computers or other automated ballot-counting methods, and have not been changed since. When you're tallying up the results by hand a simple sum of the results is the least computationally expensive method, so while there are other voting schemes (such as the various Condorcet election methods) that would arguably be better choices in terms of having the most people be the most satisfied with the results, but at the time the systems were being implemented they would have been far too expensive to actually use.

These days we're stuck with what we've got due to a combination of inertia ("TRADITION!") and the fact that most major political parties are well aware of the fact that they would almost certainly lose other types of elections (or even the current type if they hadn't put so much effort into locking down the primaries to exclude other candidates).


It has been suggested, but no legislative traction has developed behind the idea.

Many years ago, a maverick congressman from my state (KY), Larry Hopkins, proposed a 'no confidence/none of the above' vote be added to all ballots. If none of the above won, the election would have to be re-run.

Needless to say, congress made no moves on that idea. It might imperil mediocre congresspeople, with equally mediocre opposing candidates.


Say there are 3 candidates. 1. George Bush 2. Al Gore 3. Hitler

Quite obviously, and say for simplicity sake, 45% of American like Bush, 45% like Gore, and all of them hate Hitler most.

Actual numbers may differ a bit. But you got the point.

Everyone can vote for 1 and downvote another one.

Bob prefer George Bush to Al Gore. However, Hitler can't win anyway. Who do you think Bob would downvote? Why downvote those who can't win? The biggest thread to George Bush is Al Gore. If you want Bush to be president, you got to downvote Al Gore.

The same with George Bush. Charlie would vote for Al Gore, and downvote Bush.

All these while the skin heads are growing their hair pretending they don't exist.

During election day, 10% of them vote Hitler. Bush and Al Gore got -5% vote each. So, 45% vote for Bush, 50% downvote Al Gore. 45% vote for Al Gore, 50% vote downvote Bush.


Hitler won US presidency. With nukes and all, he start waging war against jews, chinese, indians, canadians, mexicans, and any non "pure blood" whites. End of world.

Now, can that be fixed? You tell me. I mean even if it can be fixed, you think average voters can come up with some strategy.

  • This reads more like a rant than like an answer. Also, it's dubious that Charlie would actually vote for Al Gore given his History and Politics questions and answers. ;-) Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 18:03
  • My point is, being able to vote for someone will cause something called voters dishonesty. With no easy fix. People will vote down not candidates that they really think it's worse but candidate that they slightly do not prefer that have high chance of winning
    – user6063
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 10:52

In addition to Approval Voting, which got mentioned by Origimbo, there are ranked choice voting methods such as Instant Runoff Voting and Single Transferrable Vote.

The way IRV and STV work in a nutshell is that you rank all candidates instead of picking a single one. You then eliminate candidates one after the other, allocating the votes of dropped candidates based on their voters' next ranked choices. (This example result of an STV poll does a good job at illustrating how it works.)

You typically don't need to rank all candidates, so you can downvote a candidate you really don't like by not ranking them at all.


If you want to vote for None of the Above as a U.S. citizen, the solution is simple. Move to Nevada where that is an option in every candidate election. California considered and rejected that option in a referendum. It is an option in a number of other countries.

Also many states which follow the Missouri plan have judges who are appointed on a merit basis, but face voters periodically in elections in which voters decide if they want to "retain" or "not retain" each judge who is facing the voters.

  • 1
    Although there was a special case in the recall election, in which voting "no" on the "Should there be a recall?" question was effectively voting "None of the above" on the "Who should replace Davis?" question. Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 16:35

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