Along with abstention, which is simply the act of not voting, or of refusing to vote, it is often considered to be a clear sign of the lack of popular legitimacy and roots of representative democracy, as not voting endangers the credibility of the whole voting system. If protest vote takes the form of a blank vote, it may or not be tallied into final results. Thus, it may either result in a spoilt vote (which is the case most of the times) or, if the electoral system accepts to take it into account, as a "None of the Above" vote.
Protest vote can be formulated in several ways:
However, some jurisdictions may give different interpretations to each of the methods mentioned above.
Sometimes, a person may use even more uncommon, often illegal, methods to show the displeasure. Example include ripping the ballot apart, asking other people to vote for them, selling the vote (for example, putting his vote on auction sites), or even eating the ballot.
Abstention may be considered as a form of protest vote, when it is not assimilable to simple apathy or indifference towards politics in general. Henceforth, the anarchist movement which has since its origins rejected representative democracy in favor of a more direct form of government, traditionally calls for abstention in an active and protest gesture. In states where voting is compulsory, abstention may be seen as an act of civil disobedience.
"Protest vote" also refers, in a more derogatory manner, to specific demographic categories, classifying populations according to the frequency and nature of their vote. Thus, in the US, middle-income families vote more often than working classes' or ghettoised populations. After the 2002 French presidential election, in which far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen arrived second behind conservative candidate Jacques Chirac, many analysts put the blame of the surprising result on working class, accused of engaging themselves in "protest vote," that is in support of fringe candidates belonging to the far-left or the far-right, or even to people who present themselves as alien to the political world (in France, environmentalist René Dumont in 1974, comedian Coluche in 1981 — but he withdrew his candidacy before the elections — environmentalist Pierre Rabhi who unsuccessfully tried to present himself in 2002, as well as TV showman Nicolas Hulot who almost presented himself for 2007, before putting aside his idea, thus leaving electoral space for José Bové, a figure of the alterglobalization movement who recently decided to present himself as an independent candidate). This kind of protest vote, where the vote is taken into account but accused of being "useless," is often considered by political analysts to be either a form of populism or, worst, of poujadism. For example, French voters were encouraged by the establishment to make a "useful" vote in the 2007 presidential election, i.e. in voting either for Nicolas Sarkozy, representative of the UMP conservative party, or for Ségolène Royal, representative of the PS social-democrat party, and not for other candidates which allegedly had no chances of arriving in the second turn of the elections.
In the United States, cartoon characters are typically used as protest votes; as Mickey Mouse is the most well-known and well-recognized character in the United States, his name is frequently selected for this purpose. (Other popular selections include Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny.) This phenomenon has the humorous effect of causing Mickey Mouse to be a minor but perennial contestor of nearly all recent U.S. presidential elections.
A similar phenomenon occurs in the parliamentary elections in Finland, although Finns usually write Donald Duck as a protest vote because Donald is more famous in Finland than Mickey. Other characters, both real and fictional, are used as protest votes too. One theory has it that the reason for boxer/politician Tony Halme's popularity in one of the elections was because he was being used as a protest vote. Somewhat ironically, this might mean that protest votes actually got someone elected.