Voters in Bosnia and Herzegovina made their regular trips to polling stations for municipal elections this Sunday, but many came not for the usual reasons. Rather, they went to make sure they did not vote.
Some citizens made the trip just to draw a big X through the list of candidates, or even to mark up the ballot with cartoonish drawings and farcical write-ins.
"I drew a picture of a little man," said Mirza Piric, 28. And he said many of his friends did the same, choosing to "spoil" their ballots rather than endorse a candidate they didn't believe in. News website Klix.ba reported votes for Chuck Norris, Bob Marley, and a representation of the Korean pop video sensation "Gangnam style."
"I can't see that any party's offering anything new," said Piric. "They're just promises and promises and that keeps going for ages."
Piric and his friends are not alone in this feeling. Every district in BiH reported some spoiled ballots this year, with some districts showing that up to 35 percent of ballots counted thus far were "invalid under other criteria," which means the ballots were intentionally spoiled, according to Maksida Piric, a spokesperson for the Election Commission. Overall, 5.5% of ballots nationwide were spoiled, according to preliminary counts by the Commission.
A ballot can not be used or salvaged if it is spoiled this way, Ms. Piric said.
But why bother going to the polls if just to destroy one's own ballot? For these young men, it's to prevent their votes from being stolen by political operatives. If they don't use the ballot assigned to their name, they say, someone else will.
"I didn't want my vote to get used or abused by anyone," said Piric, who noted reports already coming in on Sunday of such fraud in the municipality of Odzak, where the presidential election committee stole, marked, and submitted 55 unauthorized ballots for Mayor.
And indeed BiH has a robust tradition of voter fraud. In 2005, Croatian NGO "GONG"revealed instances of double-voting and votes cast by the deceased. The Council of Europe inthe year 2000 reported large-scale fraud that led to censures and disciplinary actions againstmultiple political parties. Sooner after the war, circumstances were so extreme as do demanda recount when turnout showed more votes were cast than there were voters in the country.
Election officials, for their part, know what to conclude when they see ballots spoiled by doodles or angry X's. "It's a way to send a message," said a spokesperson for the election commission. That message is that while voters may be disenchanted and angry, they remain protective of the one opportunity they have to participate in their democracy. They may not use that opportunity the way it's intended, but they aren't going to relinquish it to someone else.