How have spoilt ballots been interpreted before?

After stating my intent to spoil the ballot I got push back from various anarchists. Some said my amusing message would not be read, this is obviously true and not the point – the point is to change the election statistics. Others stated that an elevated spoiled vote count would be interpreted as a desire to do something, and and make the situation worse, something which I conceded may happen, but which is not new or unique to spoiling the vote (as compared to staying away, or voting for a comedy candidate).

Perhaps I conceded too much. Here is a quote from a story on the Guardian about high numbers of spoiled votes. Note that a clear message is taken away from the dry statistic.

Unusually high rates of spoilt ballot papers have been recorded in the police and crime commissioner elections amid suggestions that there has been a co-ordinated online campaign to protest at the poll taking place.

The Conservative candidate Angus Macpherson became the first police commissioner in Wiltshire on a turnout of just 15.3% – of which 3.3% (2,682) were invalid.

The elections expert Prof John Curtice told the Radio 4 Today programme that while the two-vote system tended to result in more invalid votes than the first-past-the-post system, the level of spoilt votes in Wiltshire “raised eyebrows” about whether some voters were deliberately spoiling their ballot papers to indicate their dissatisfaction with the process of electing PCCs.

The 2010 general election, fought under first past the post, saw 0.3% of the total votes cast rejected. In the 2012 London mayoral election – fought under the supplementary vote system used in the PCC elections – there were 1.8% rejected ballot papers.

Curtice said of the Wiltshire result: “It raises the question whether some people didn’t simply fail to cast a vote because they were confused by the system, but maybe some people amongst that minuscule 15.8% who turned out went to the polling station and said: ‘Hang on, let’s spoil that ballot paper to declare we don’t think the whole thing is a terribly good idea.’ “

Part of the evidence for this being the message was that the election was to a new post of Police Commissioner, and partly because an online campaign had been making suggestions along these lines. One of those things cannot be replicated, the other clearly can.

One more thing: here is the Electoral Commision on rejected (spoiled) ballots:

The proportion of ballots that are rejected at the official count continues to be very small. In 2010 it was less than three in every thousand votes cast.

One in 3,000 is 0.3%, or in a constituency like mine about 150 votes. How hard would it be to run a campaign seeking to bring out 150 extra voters to spoil their ballots? That would mean you would have doubled the average number of spoilt ballots. This is a dramatically lower level than that required to win a poll.