POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Invalid Votes

An invalid vote is a vote which doesn't count towards the final election result. When assessing the validity of a vote, the most important factor is whether or not the voter's intention can be clearly determined.

A vote in political elections is therefore considered invalid when:

  • the ballot paper is not officially produced
  • the ballot paper is valid for a different constituency
  • the ballot paper contains no markings whatsoever
  • the intention of the voter is not clearly discernible from the ballot paper
  • the ballot contains additional, surplus entries by the voter
  • the ballot paper is intentionally spoilt by the voter 

In a postal vote, a ballot paper is rendered invalid if it isn't received in an official envelope, or when the type and condition of the official ballot are such that they adversely affect the election choice. The average proportion of invalid votes cast in German Parliament elections since 1990 is around 1.6% of total votes cast. 

Impact of invalid ballot papers

Invalid votes have the same impact on the election result as abstentions from voting. As elections are decided solely on the basis of clear and valid votes, invalid ballot papers and abstentions do not count towards the election result. The only difference is that invalid votes are recorded in official election statistics. In traditional paper ballot elections, it's difficult to determine whether an invalid vote is cast deliberately or by mistake. 

Invalid votes in online elections

In online elections it's also possible to cast an invalid vote. However, this can only occur if the voter intentionally marks the field labelled "cast invalid vote". In contrast to traditional paper ballots, casting an invalid vote in online elections is generally always deliberate because voters must actively confirm their choice through a double-checking mechanism.

Invalid votes are also known as "spoilt votes" or "informal votes".

See also: Abstained Votes, Voter Turnout, Postal Vote

< Go back