Scenes from an election count ...

One moment from yesterday's election count which demonstrated that some people involved in politics still have a sense of humour about what is said about them ...

There are a number of reasons why ballot papers may be taken out of the initial count and shown to all the candidates as potentially subject to challenge.

If you write something other than a tick or cross on your ballot paper it is supposed to be shown to all the candidates and agents, which used to make this a good way of making a point to them. although your vote can still count if the intention is clear.

Yesterday the election staff in Copeland, who were obviously in a hurry to get everything done as fast as consistent with getting it right, waved these in front of  us for just long enough to see whether the voter had expressed a clear preference, which wasn't always long enough to also read what the voter had written.  Which I thought was a bit of a shame as I would have liked a few more seconds to check whether the voters concerned had written anything constructive about why they were hacked off with us all. I can't complain that we were not given the opportunity to confirm whether the voter had met the guidelines to express a clear preference.

If the voter has put a cross or tick in what is technically the wrong part of the ballot paper, but in such a way that the intention is clear - for example, if a cross is immediately after a candidate's name rather than in the box a bit further along - the returning officer will allow it.

Common reasons why a paper was ruled to be spoilt included that it was completely blank, that the elector had attempted to vote for more than one candidate (in a multi-member election, the equivalent would be trying to vote for more candidates than there are vacancies), or that the elector had written numbers rather than ticks or crosses. (Probably a supporter of proportional representation. However the guidance is that such votes must be ruled to be spoilt, presumably because there is no way to be absolutely certain whether the voter has given the lowest number to his or her first preference or the other way round.)

I was amused that whenever the voter had written something on the ballot paper which didn't show a clear intention to vote for one candidate, the officers described it as "Void for Uncertainty."

Which was the right decision and in many cases also an accurate description - for example, if someone draws a swastika in the BNP box, the returning officer has no way to be certain whether the voter is an open Nazi who wants to vote BNP or someone who detests fascism and wanted to insult the BNP rather than vote for them.

However in many cases, while I agreed that the vote was void I did not think there was any uncertainty whatsoever about the voter's intentions - the voter was certain that he or she did not want to vote for any of the candidates on offer.

One such voter had written "I don't want to vote for any of these clowns." against the names of all three candidates. When the returning officer said that he proposed to rule this as void for uncerrtainty, the UKIP agent came back as quick as a flash with a grin and "Hang on, it refers to clowns, surely that's a vote for us!"

Well, nobody else thought it was funny but the UKIP guy did and I did.


Andrew Kennedy said…
Hi Chris, love your blog. I am the agent for three constituencies in West Kent. I blog on similar lines to you - do pay me a visit.

Regarding spoilt ballot papers, my favourite was from 6 years ago at the Borough election. One of my candidates was a well known
"romeo" with quite an eye for the older lady. When we came to the spoilt papers, the ERO asked me for a private word. He showed me a paper on which the elector had voted for one of the two Conservative candidates, but alongside the other had written something quite embarrassing. He asked I might like to suggest the candidate concerned was not present as they were being examined. I disagreed, and thought it served him right.

He nervously went through the 15 or so rejected ballots and finally, with a shaking hand, revealed the final paper. Written alongside this particular candidates name was "if I catch you scr*wing my wife again I will kill you". Priceless.

Chris Whiteside said…
Sorry about the delay responding, Andrew - I had suspended putting posts and comments up because they appeared to be caught by Euro-election purdah, but the latest advice is that potential Euro candidates can update our websites so I am now able to respond.

I had followed a "Daley Dozen" plug for your "Voting and Boating" blog on Iain Dale's new site and enjoyed reading it.

I can just imagine the scene you describe with the candidates and agents clustered round an embarrased ERO with one candidate going very red and everyone else desperately trying not to roar with laughter.

Bit unfair for the Conservative candidate that the voter had ticked, if that vote wasn't counted. But serve the one who had been playing around right!

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