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9:45am on Thursday, 4th June, 2009:

Complicated Votes


It's election day here in the UK, not that you'd notice. I went in at about 7:15am (15 minutes after the polls opened), on the way back home after dropping my wife off at the station. The person at the desk asked if I was A-L, so I said I was (Bartle starts with a B, right?). Turns out they meant the address of my street and I needed to be at the other table. Neither table had any sign on them saying they were for separate groups, or how those groups were determined. This is what happens when you vote early.

There are, in fact, two elections going on. One is for the county council (ie. local, but not that local) and one is for the European parliament. I generally spoil my European elections ballot paper, on the grounds that its party lists system means politicians are not fully accountable to the electorate (if the number 1 name on the party list is a jerk, you can't vote for someone else in the party ahead of them). However, this time the turnout is likely to be so low that there's a faint chance my vote could count, so I didn't spoil it.

So, there were 13 parties and one individual on the European elections ballot paper, ranging from a mad animal rights group to a mad Christian group to a mad no-name-but-here's-our-website group to a mad ersatz-socialist group led by the Prime Minister. I duly located the mad that they can't get elected Liberal Democrats and gave them my X.

Aside: why do we mark these things in pencil, not thick marker pen? Isn't that just asking for fraud?

Anyway, although I was an early voter, I wasn't the first. Ahead of me was an ancient woman with blue hair. She was attempting to put her European ballot paper into the ballot box.

OK, so recall that this ballot paper has 14 boxes on it. It's the size of 2 A4 pieces of paper laid end to end (perhaps slightly narrower). The slot it has to go into is less than half its width. You have to fold it to fit the ballot paper in. This is deliberate: folding the paper means people can't see how you voted.

This blue-haired woman was attempting to stuff her ballot paper into the box unfolded. She put in a corner and couldn't get any more in, so she took it out and put in another corner as if that would make some kind of difference, and she flipped it round so the words were facing her (and me) in the hope that this would somehow do the trick, all to no avail (by the way, Conservatives, congratulations, you got a least one vote). Exasperated, she decided to push harder, and in so doing crumpled her paper like a bad concertina. She then took it out, squashed it some more, and poked it in lengthways.

For her County Council elections paper, which was much smaller and only needed one fold, she laid it flat on the top of the ballot box and pushed it through with her fingers. It was reminiscent of the way magicians put something in their handkerchief prior to making it disappear. She may even have torn it.

I was standing behind her all the while, waiting to cast my vote. However, the demands of voting must have exhausted her, and she just stood there, annoyingly, without moving. At least those people who hold you up in shops are putting their change in their purse or wallet or whatever: she was just getting her breath back. She could have done that a pace to the left, she didn't have to block my legitimate participation in the democratic process.

Come the general election, I'll try to get in even earlier...

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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).