A temporary interruption to one small aspect of the overall process

The title is a quote from one of the vote-counting organisations, describing the Scottish elections. In some cases the number of spoilt or rejected ballot papers outnumbered winning candidates’ majorities ten to one.

The problem, I’m sure, is that the two different voting papers – one national, one council – use two completely different systems. One uses a cross, one uses numbers – a disaster waiting to happen. I think I ended up voting for the Prime Minister of Chad.

Bloody hell. Some sections of Hollyrood reckon they could run an independent Scots economy? We can’t even run a voting system for a few million people. I suspect even a piss-up in a brewery might prove too much of a challenge.

17 thoughts on “A temporary interruption to one small aspect of the overall process

  1. Chris says:

    I’m sceptical myself, if any papers that the machines reject are supposed to be verified by the returning officer, they can apply their judgement as to the voter’s intentions. So it ought to be a human who choses whether the paper is spoiled or not. Its the returning officer’s judgement in each case that needs to be questioned.

  2. Ronnie says:

    Yes, that’s what I thought. I’m sure the guy on the BBC last night – the one that looked like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – explained that the returning officer has the final say on each ballot.

    Also, I’m not convinced by the “too complicated” issue. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t know exactly what i was doing but I asked someone there and was given as much help as I needed. If anything, perhaps people weren’t fully informed enough. In that case, there’s a problem with the documentation and not the system. :)

  3. Tony Kiernan says:

    Nothing to do with the voting system, but yesterday I made the decision not to vote for the first time ever. Only the independent candidate for the council nearly got me out there to vote, but I contacted her campaign weeks ago to clarify a policy and got no reply. A pox on all their houses.

  4. Gary says:

    I felt a bit like that, but the BNP and the creationists were fielding candidates here.

  5. Brian H says:

    True democracy will never be achieved until EVERY ballot contains a “None of the above” option. If it wins, ALL previous candidates are barred from the next vote; it could either be an immediate new campaign, or that seat would remain empty until the next regular election.

    Until the above is implemented, all elections are subject to highjacking by coteries and special interests, generally disguised as political parties.

  6. Gary says:

    Yeah, but of course the age-old problem is that the sort of people who run for office are the sort of people who should be barred from running for office. A none of the above win would only work if it then led to the sort of people who don’t run for office running for office. Er…

    Ronnie, I didn’t think the voting was particularly complicated, but I do think if you have two different systems it’s just asking for trouble. I very nearly put a cross on the paper that you put numbers on, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. There’s always a bit of your brain that wants to do the wrong thing, heh. And it’s just weird not folding the ballot papers. Apparently quite a few oldies folded theirs out of force of habit.

    The number of spoilt/rejected papers is incredible, though. Assuming there hasn’t been a massive increase in the number of people writing “you’re all bastards” on their forms, it arguably means that the winning candidates aren’t necessarily the winning candidates.

    Apparently the number of spoilt/rejected papers was even higher in the last London elections. Half a million, I think.

  7. Squander Two says:

    This is one of the great advantages of FPTP and other traditional non-fucked-around-with systems. No-one ever complained that voters couldn’t understand the ballot after losing an election in which the public had to draw a single X next to just one candidate’s name.

    > Assuming there hasn’t been a massive increase in the number of people writing “you’re all bastards” on their forms

    That’s quite some assumption.

  8. Ben says:

    The part I’m really really unhappy about was the non-folding of the ballot papers – I saw three different peoples votes by just standing either in the queue to the ballot box or getting ‘ticked off’ on the register!

    Secret Ballot? Not quite. Surely that’s a major issue?

  9. richie says:

    I was unaware that there were more spoilt ballots than votes counted. That really goes to show that independence is a far cry for this reign of parliament. Without the 65 seat majority the SNP are scuppered to even get a refurendum(sp?) through the house. The Labour/lib Dem coalition is still going to be, all be it unoficially, in full force rendering the entire parliament a farce.

    I used to be behind the SNP about 10 years ago, but looking at it know I don’t know how they can possibly run the country with the current minority government. I’ll be happy if they do introduce a fairer tax system than council tax because i’m getting humped for living!

    Oh flower of scotland….Roy Williamson would be turning in his grave!

  10. tm says:

    >The number of spoilt/rejected papers is incredible, though.

    Particularly given that it matters so much – In my (our in the case of gary and Dave) old constituency the winning margin was 47 votes. Of course in any normal election that would probably be outweighed by spoilt papers, but here we have that excellent combination of both a close election *and* a voting system that seems to have encouraged cock ups. What a fantastic idea.

    Incidentally the reports I heard on the election counts problems seemed to imply that it was actually the counting of the papers – or rather the totaling of votes that had already been counted that went wrong. Whilst not as easy as it may look, this should still be the surest part of the process – and it is certainly by far the easiest part to test – if you have any gumption. But then I have had plenty of dealings with civil servants in Scotland and I never counted a surfeit of gumption as one of their great strengths.

  11. Gary says:

    Richie, I agree council tax is unfair – but I’m not sure local income tax is any fairer. As various political bloggers have noted, a truly local income tax is shite if the area is overly poor, because in order to pay for the council services it means taxing everyone higher than in Richshire next door. And from my limited understanding of the tax system, a local income tax is a piece of piss to avoid. Income tax is optional, and the more you earn the more optional it becomes.

    Tm, is that the constituency Labour’s mounting a legal challenge in? From what I can gather the counting itself was all right, but the consolidation of the data hit hiccups and wasn’t being collated fast enough. The counting machines are just OCR jobs, and if they can’t read a ballot for whatever reason it’s passed to people to decide whether it’s acceptable or not. It does seem that the main reason for the rejections was plain old confusion – utterly predictable when the Scottish Office and Scottish Executive both decided to ignore independent advice that running three separate and different ballots simultaneously was a recipe for disaster.

    The Labour/lib Dem coalition is still going to be, all be it unoficially, in full force rendering the entire parliament a farce.

    One of the columnists in the Sundays made the – perfectly sensible, IMO – point that if the best achievement you can come up with after four years of government is banning smoking in public places, you ain’t got much of a government in the first place… I know it’s a knee-jerk reaction but I’m afraid I do subscribe to the “MSPs are overpromoted councillors” argument, the idea that Hollyrood is the Peter Principle in full effect. An awful lot of people achieving sod-all at great expense.

  12. Gary says:

    Haha, I’m reminded of a gig I did with Stages of Cruelty. Such nice, gentle boys.

    Hmmm, sounded like Morrissey there. But they really were awfully nice. The bass player looked particularly scary, but pre-gig he was backstage at Sleazy’s, crying his eyes out with stage fright. Awwwww.

  13. tm says:

    >Tm, is that the constituency Labour’s mounting a legal challenge in? From what I can gather the counting itself was all right, but the consolidation of the data hit hiccups and wasn’t being collated fast enough

    Exactly. Lets think about that for a minute. What it means is “They couldn’t add them up quick enough.”.

    Now I know that it’s not as simple as that – but it’s not actually that much more complicated than that now is it? Lets face it – all computers really do is add and subtract and perhaps divide. They’ve made computers bad at the very thing that they do really, really well. I rest my case.

  14. Gary says:

    Heh.

    I can sort of see the MP’s point, though – he lost by what, 48 votes? Given the numbers of spoilt papers, if some had been unnecessarily rejected he may well have kept his seat.

  15. tm says:

    Yeah there were 1015 or so spoiled papers. That’s 20 times the number of votes he lost by. And in a previsouly fairly safe labour seat you could argue that an incumbent party voted for by a ‘silent majority’ has the most to lose in spoiled ballots.

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