At the end of the first round of this year's presidential election, many people expressed concerns about the high number of invalid votes. The number of invalid votes in the first round was higher than the number of votes received by some candidates.
Despite these concerns and the criticisms aimed at them, the Elections Commission (EC) prepared for the second round with a resolve to improve the situation. However, the results of the second round showed that the number of invalid votes had increased in comparison to the first round. This marked the highest number of invalid votes cast in the history of elections held in the Maldives.
In the first round of elections, 4,835 votes were declared invalid, compared to 7,888 invalid votes counted in the second round. This accounts for 3 percent of the total number of votes cast in this election.
Deputy chief of the Elections Commission, Ismail Habeeb, expressed his concern and said that they will work to address this issue in the next election. Despite the EC's resolve to tackle this problem, they were unable to ascertain why the number of invalid votes were increased.
Looking at the invalid votes, most of the ballots were invalidated because there were more than one mark. Some of the ticks were doubled and sometimes there were an additional ridge on the mark.
Upon reviewing the invalid votes, it was observed that most of the ballots were deemed invalid because there were multiple marks. Some of the ticks were douled, and at times, there was an additional mark or ridge on the ballot.
Another issue observed was the inconsistency in practices used by different voting centers. While a vote might be invalid in one center because the mark is outside the allocated cell, another center may accept the vote as long as it does not cross into the cell allocated for the other candidate. Some centers deemed ballot papers invalid if the tick went even slightly out of the cell.
This concern was also raised by international observers, who noted the inconsistency in practices across different voting centers. They observed instances where monitors and observers influenced the heads of centers to change valid votes into invalid ones.
The EC had given assurance that things will be resolved in the second round. In this regard, additional training was given to officials and the EC said that pens used for voting will be replaced so that voters will not feel the need to highlight their mark.
Although a bristle board was placed on the voting booth to make it easier for voters to mark the ballot, some of the ball point pens placed in some voting booths did not have running ink. Many of the invalid votes were marked by such pens.
As the second round of the election approached, several voices on social media claimed that there were no acceptable candidates. With a loss of confidence in politicians and bitter experiences from the past, many Maldivians wanted to say no to politicians. The "Team Baathil" movement, advocating for invalid votes, emerged from these sentiments.
One of the youth leading this effort said they wanted to express the view that none of the candidates were acceptable. They wanted to show that this was also a right. He believes that the Maldives should also have the opportunity to say "None of the Above" as is practiced in some countries where "None of the above" or voting to say there is no acceptable candidate is an option on the ballot paper.
"We want to say that their is no acceptable candidate for us. We do not want to choose between "bad" and "worse" he said.
Faris Maumoon who contested in the first round of election supported the movement and said manifestos had been thrown out of the window during the past 3 weeks and the fulfillment of the irresponsible pledges made by candidates were highly unlikely.
He said he had seen hatred, negative campaigns and discourse spread by both sides instead.
Faris said, "If we can get an adequate number of protest votes, that will be a strong message"
Elections chief Fuad Thaufeeq agrees with these sentiments. Fuad said that even though invalid votes do not impact on the outcome of the election, it conveys a good message to everyone.
Through this, "Team Baathil" secured 3 percent in this year's election and made their voices heard.