Perhaps what we need is anti-votes.

As it stands, election sentiment is limited in scope. Casting a vote for a candidate implicitly says, “I prefer this person for the office.” But what about when we aren’t guided by preference, but distaste? How might we effectively indicate, “I prefer this person not to have the office.”

The best we can do today is either vote for a different candidate (“I prefer this person over the candidate I dislike.”) or not register a vote at all (“I have no preference among any of these candidates.”). These are categorically different statements than “I prefer anyone over this candidate.”

Let’s assume that every anti-vote for a candidate cancels out one vote for that person. Candidates are ranked by their net votes, the number of votes they receive minus their anti-votes. In practice, this new option could drastically impact an outcome. Here’s a simple scenario:

Candidates Purple, Green, and Orange run for an election in a small townlet. There are thirty-five eligible voters, thirty of which turn out on election night. We tally and observe the following results:

P: 10 votes
G: 10 votes
O: 10 votes

But in reality, a portion of the voters disliked candidate Orange more than they preferred Purple or Green. How might that sentiment get captured in a system with anti-voting?

P: 8 votes
G: 5 votes
O: 3 net votes (10 votes, 7 anti-votes)

What happens if we have only two candidates? At first, anti-voting seems to add unnecessary complication. A vote “for” one candidate has the same effect of nullifying a vote for the opposing candidate. Worse, in the case of an even split, anti-votes don’t seem to clarify anything. Let’s imagine Candidate Purple and Orange split the same townlet’s votes. In our existing system we’d see:

P: 15 votes
O: 15 votes

With anti-voting available, we might see some switch their votes to anti-votes for the other candidate, to little effect:

P: 11 net votes (12 votes, 1 anti-vote)
O: 11 net votes-(14 votes, 3 anti-votes)

Here’s where it gets interesting. Remember those five voters in our townlet that didn’t turn out on election night? In our existing system, it’s reasonable to assume that some of those voters didn’t turn out because they didn’t support either candidate. Because they see themselves as principled voters (so brave), they didn’t feel comfortable voting for a candidate they didn’t support. However, they might feel comfortable voting against the candidate they most loath. In this scenario, we observe:

P: 9 net votes (12 votes, 3 anti-votes)
O: 8 net votes(14 votes, 6 anti-votes)

By increasing the options for expression, anti-voting increases voter turnout.

Whether this more accurately represents the will of the people is a separate question; the point is simply that providing the ability to anti-vote captures a distinct set of voter sentiment and meaningfully affects results.