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How to cast your vote(s) – a cautionary tale from the polling station

How to cast your vote(s) – a cautionary tale from the polling station

🕔04.May 2017

I popped along to vote this morning, writes Chris Game. I’ll let you speculate about the exact time, but I’m definitely not an early riser, had delivered someone to work, yet was still comfortably among the first two dozen to have bothered the polling station staff.

From this extensive personal research, therefore, I’ve no reason to doubt the universal expectation that turnout in these first, historic metro mayoral elections will be somewhere between disappointing and potentially disempowering.

And to lament again that, if only the opinion polls had revealed to our resolute, unwavering PM just a couple of weeks earlier that calling a snap General Election was suddenly the “right and responsible” thing to do, she could have had her own electoral coronation today, saved the country loadsamoney and weeks of repetitious campaigning, and doubled the turnout in these local and mayoral contests.

But that was yesterday’s moan. Today’s is the complete absence of any visible written information – even in English, let alone any of the other 100+ languages spoken just in Birmingham – about how, and how not, to cast one’s vote in what for almost everyone will have been a novel and unfamiliar Supplementary Vote (SV) electoral system.

There is, of course, nothing to this effect on one’s poll card, not that – again to visitors’ general amazement – you need it for identification purposes. The sole written information available in the polling station, therefore, appeared to be that at the top of the ballot paper.










Certainly no explanation of the two-stage count, and therefore of the significance of your second/supplementary vote, and not, I think, even of the consequence of deciding that your second choice was the same as your first.

Of course, if you happened to be an unusually diligent citizen and blessed with a retentive memory, you could think back to the envelope you received some time ago from the West Midlands Combined Authority, with its black-covered (!) booklet containing information about the six candidates, plus a very clear summary of the SV system.









But would it really have broken the bank to reproduce, say, some combination of pages 4 and 6 of that booklet – hopefully more engagingly than my own illustration – in the form of a polling station poster?








READ: Mayoral manifestos – make your mind up time

Finally, talking of cash, there’s been considerable recent coverage of the campaign spending of Conservative candidate, Andy Street. The Green Party’s James Burn reckoned one household had received nine different pieces of AS literature – which, as an Edgbaston resident who could count only seven, made me feel slightly neglected, while heartily agreeing with Mr Burn and many others that the lack of spending controls over this campaign period as a whole was remiss, discriminatory and, in this instance, quite possibly decisive.

Now, it obviously might have been in one of the deliveries I missed, but I don’t recall seeing – among all the glossy pics of Mr Street hobnobbing with the great, mucking-in with the not-so-great, and bad-mouthing “Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate” – any attempt to explain how voters might use the SV system to his benefit. How, even if he wasn’t their first choice, he could still be their second.

It’s a message that, as London Mayoral candidates have learnt over the years, some obviously to their cost, is impossible to over-emphasise.

I showed in my previous blog how roughly 90% of the ‘second votes’ cast in the Birmingham Mail’s regional survey had been effectively ‘wasted’, in the sense of having either not been used or used in such a way as to exclude them from the second count.

While some, undoubtedly, would have known what they were doing, common sense suggests that many others surely didn’t. Even a modest fraction of this latter group could have swung the Mail’s mock election to one or other of the predictably leading candidates, Simon or Street, and we could easily face a similar second-count scenario tomorrow afternoon.

It would be a massive irony if Mr Street, given his hugely greater opportunities to put over the ‘Give Me Your Second Vote’ message, were to lose the election narrowly on just those second votes.

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