We experimentally study the impact of adding an explicit nil vote option to the ballot
in both compulsory and voluntary voting settings. We investigate this issue in an
informational voting setting, in which some voters are uninformed and face the swing
voter’s curse, implying that they can only affect the expected election outcome adversely.
We generate predictions using a simple model of strategic voting in which some voters
receive a psychological benefit (along the lines of Riker and Ordeshook (1968)) from
choosing an action that they consider a legitimate participation in the election.
We test our model in a double-blind pen-and-paper laboratory experiment, and find
that the main comparative predictions of the model hold in the data, particularly
strongly for compulsory voting. In particular, both under compulsory and voluntary
voting, introducing a nil vote option reduces the number of uninformed voters casting
a vote for a candidate, increasing voters’ expected welfare. Additionally, it eradicates
strategic invalid votes under compulsory voting.
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