Saturday, May 25, 2019

Who can vote for what bodies?

Amongst the many comments about the elections this week and the problems many EU Citizens raised was the fact that their names appeared on the paper registers at polling stations but crossed through. Why was this?

The basic answer is that the election register combines six different categories of voters with differing entitlements to vote in different elections. All qualified voters who have registered and can vote in at least one set of elections appear are on the list but those ineligible to vote at the election in question at the polling station in question are crossed out.

More detail required? Sure.

Broadly there are three different franchises in this country:
  • The local & devolved government franchise for electing councils, police & crime commissioners and devolved parliaments & assemblies.
  • The Westminster franchise for electing the House of Commons.
  • The European Parliament franchise for electing members of the European Parliament.
(I'll come to referendums later in the post.)

Due to the different voting entitlements of ex pats, EU citizens and members of the House of Lords there are six different categories of voters with various combinations of franchise. For operational simplicity a single electoral roll is maintained but has to indicate the differing eligibility. If you see a register you will note that some voters' names have letters next to them; these indicate the different categories. These are as follows:
  • (No letter) - Citizens of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth countries (including Cyprus and Malta) who have all three franchise.
  • E - Ex pat members of the House of Lords who have the European Parliament franchise only.
  • F - Ex pats who moved abroad from the United Kingdom in the last fifteen years who have the Westminster and European Parliament franchises (in the constituency of their last registered address) but not the local government franchise.
  • G - Citizens of other European Union countries (excluding the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta covered above) who only have the local government franchise unless they've completed a further stage...
  • K - Citizens of other European Union countries (excluding the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta covered above) who have completed, returned & had processed a formal declaration to state that they will be exercising their vote for the European Parliament in the United Kingdom and not in their country of citizenship, and thus have both the local government franchise and the European Parliament franchise.
  • L - Members of the House of Lords who have both the local government franchise and the European Parliament franchise but not the Westminster franchise for the House of Commons.
(The document for converting from "G" to "K" is called the UC1 form, although annoyingly not on the form itself, or the "European Union citizens – European Parliament voter registration form (GB)" in Great Britain and the EC6 form, a code that does appear on it, or the "EUROPEAN UNION CITIZENS - EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT VOTER REGISTRATION FORM (NI)" in Northern Ireland.)

There are also two letters relating to how votes cast:
  • A - Indicates a voter who has applied for a postal vote and thus cannot vote at the polling station.
  • P - Proxy - a vote has proxied their vote for someone else to cast it on their behalf.
To summarise by franchise:
  • Local & devolved government - (No letter), G, K, L
  • Westminster - (No letter), F
  • European Parliament - (No letter), E, F, K, L
Referendums usually use the same franchise as the relevant body in question though there have been some variations. Votes on various council matters or devolution use the local & devolved franchise. The AV and Brexit referendums used the Westminster franchise plus members of the House of Lords (E & L), with the latter also enfranchising voters in Gibraltar.

The standard election registers have all registered voters across the six categories listed. The copies for polling stations are printed so that all names appear but those unable to vote in a particular election are crossed out. As well as the categories of voters ineligible at the election, also crossed out are people with postal votes (A) and people on the register under the age of 18 on polling day.

This arrangement helps staff quickly identify the reason why a person will not be able to vote there, albeit at the expense of potentially confusing ineligible voters who may not understand why they can't vote when their name is on this list.

The problems relating to EU Citizens and the declaration forms to convert their category from G to K is such a big subject that it would take a separate post. However looking at some of the reported letters and phone calls, it seems that a lot of wording has not distinguished between someone appearing on the combined register for elections in general and having had the specifics processed for European Parliament elections.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

An Election Free Post FAQ

Over the past week or so a number of people have been posting on social media about leaflets from various political parties they've received, often with their name and address on them.

Officially called "Election Communications", these are election free post leaflets. In some elections all candidates/parties are entitled to have one item delivered to all voters/households by Royal Mail. For many voters it may be the only thing they receive from a particular party/candidate.

Not everyone knows the ins and outs of them, so here's a quick set of Frequently Asked Questions and answers.

What elections have the free post option?

Elections to the Westminster and European Parliaments.

For directly elected mayors the electoral authorities will directly send out a booklet containing multiple one or two page manifestos from all candidates who submitted them and paid the fee.

Local council elections and, if I recall correctly, police & crime commissioner elections don't have them. I forget what the provision is for the devolved parliaments.

Why have we only received leaflets from some parties?

The free post is an option available to all parties and independent candidates, but not everyone makes use of it whilst some campaigners opt to only send out a limited amount to targeted voters and/or areas. For example in the 2011 AV referendum the Yes campaign (infamously) decided against doing a full delivery.

Why did this arrive after my postal vote?

It largely depends upon when the leaflets were delivered to Royal Mail. The final deadlines for submission are usually after the bulk of postal votes going out and the distribution is often staggered. Unaddressed free posts (more on these below) are especially vulnerable to this but also some are sent in batches so the ones to postal voters arrive earlier; however not every party or candidate will have the most up to date postal vote list to hand.

How did [X] party get my address details?

Political parties and candidates are allowed access to the electoral register for election purposes, including sending literature to voters.

I am on the closed register so why am I receiving this?

The option to opt out of the "open" version of the register is a distinction that only applies to its commercial sale to marketing companies. Political parties and candidates have the full register.

Why did only some of us in this home receive addressed leaflets? 
Why did we get different leaflets?

Some parties and candidates will try to maximise the effect of the free post by sending more than one leaflet wherever possible. A common tactic is to send a first leaflet to the first named person on the register for an address and then a second leaflet to the second named person. Other parties may have limited resources and will only send one leaflet per household but address it to a named voter.

Why is this leaflet addressed to someone I've never heard of?

Either they're a past resident at  your address who is still on the electoral register there or there's been a major database screw-up, which has hit one party this year.

Why are some not addressed at all?

Some parties and candidates opt to send unaddressed leaflets to all households. Both addressed and unaddressed are options available with Royal Mail, though not all printers are set up for individual addressed leaflets.

Why did I receive this when I have a "No junk mail" sign up?

Political communications do not meet the official definition of junk mail.

Political parties have announced a suspension of campaigning so why was this delivered?

This came up a bit in the last general election. Once the leaflets have been submitted and accepted by Royal Mail, they are out of control of the parties who are unable to then get delivery delayed. Royal Mail's internal set-up simply doesn't allow for such an instruction to go through.

Why have I received a leaflet for a different constituency?

Annoyingly some leaflets seem to turn up in neighbouring constituencies despite everything being correctly filled out. In my experience these are usually unaddressed free posts and the problem stems from postal areas not aligning to administrative boundaries, ranging from the post code to regional level.

Why does [X] have my details when they're not a political party, but a registered company?

All political parties listed on the ballot paper are officially registered with the Electoral Commission. (Here is the register.) Some parties may also be registered as companies for operational reasons but if they're on the register of parties then they are a recognised political party, no matter how many times somebody tweets otherwise.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Uncertain ballot papers in the Cotswolds

One of the more interesting side shows in the local elections this week has been the result in the Tetbury Town ward on Cotswold District Council. The Conservative candidate retained the seat with a majority of just one vote over an independent and a lot of attention has focused upon one particular ballot paper that ultimately prevented the result from being a tie. (Details at Gloucestershire Live: Ballot paper with 'Brexit' and an arrow written across it accepted as deciding vote in controversial Cotswolds local election)

(The results for the district election, and indeed for just about every election in the area for the last five years can be found at Cotswold District Council - Election Results.)

There has been a lot of comment on the web and Twitter about this ballot paper and it's clear that many people are unaware of either the standard practice in election counts or the official guidance available. It is also clear that nobody has actually got a picture or scan of the ballot paper.

As someone who has lost count of the number of times I've been an election or counting agent, here's a quick rundown of how things work.

Most ballot papers have clear crosses in boxes for one or more candidates and the staff will separate them into separate piles. However some ballot papers aren't clear and if the counting staff are uncertain, or if a counting agent representing a candidate/party challenges a ballot paper's inclusion, then the ballot paper is set aside for adjudication.

The adjudication is carried out by the Returning Officer or by a deputy formally delegated the task. They have to formally determine whether or not the ballot paper shows a clear intention or if it is unclear or if the ballot paper must be rejected for other reasons.

The five categories of rejected votes are as follows:

Want of an official mark
This is an anti-counterfeiting measure. Today it's usually done by printing a special symbol on the ballot paper (with a different symbol for postal votes) but in the past special hole punches were used (and some disputed elections hinged on the failure of staff to properly punch the papers).

Voting for more Candidates than voter was entitled to
A straightforward category.

Writing or mark by which voter could be identified
This is to preserve the integrity of a secret ballot and aims to make it impossible for observers to definitely connect a vote to a voter. Writing your name, address or elector number will invalidate the vote.

Being unmarked or wholly void for uncertainty
This covers a wide range from completely blank ballot papers to those with just a message on them to those where the voter's choice can't be easily determined.

Rejected in part
This only comes up in multi-member elections. Sometimes some of the voter's choices are clear and others aren't and only the clear choices are admitted to the count.

The Returning Officer does not rule in a vacuum but instead draws upon the rules set down by legislation and previous court cases and summarised in official Electoral Commission guidance. There are several booklets for the various different elections, but the relevant one here is the excitingly named Dealing with doubtful ballot papers - Supporting local government elections in England and Wales (PDF). This contains examples and the relevant legislation or case references to guide. Occasionally more detailed guidance has to be consulted - the longest I've ever seen was when someone had neatly written "BNP" in a candidate's box. (The BNP was not standing in that election.) The ruling was that this was a valid vote and the candidate's face was a sight to behold. Never has a vote received been less wanted.

The rules and guidance aim heavily towards inclusion:
2.21 The key phrase in the Rules is: 'A ballot paper [...] shall not [...] be deemed to be void if an intention that the vote shall be for one or other of the candidates clearly appears.'
(Rule 47(3), Schedule 2, Local Elections (Principal Areas) (England & Wales) Rules 2006.) (Emphasis in the original.)
Specifically, a vote is still valid even if it is not placed in the box and even if it does not use a cross:
2.3 A ballot paper should not be rejected because the vote is:
• not marked in the proper place
• marked other than by a cross
• marked by more than one mark
(Rule 47(3), Schedule 2, Local Elections (Principal Areas) (England & Wales) Rules 2006)
The principles for determining the outcome are clearly set down:
2.22 Each ballot paper should be considered on its own merits and decisions should be taken on a case-by-case basis.
2.24 The key question a Returning Officer should ask is whether the voter has, on the face of the paper, indicated a reasonably clear intention to vote for a candidate or candidates.
Now the ballot paper in question reportedly had a statement written on it (reports vary as to whether it was "I'm voting for Brexit" or just "Brexit") and an arrow pointing to the Conservative candidate (a detail that is not present in all the reports).

A reporter at the count made some tweets, including pictures and videos, that clearly show there was long and detailed consideration on this ballot paper with the guidance consulted:

As a result the ballot paper was ruled to show a clear selection of the Conservative candidate and thus a valid vote for him. Note that this was a ruling on a ballot paper and it was not a "tie breaker", despite how some of the reports have described it. Rulings on ballot papers are made in elections all the time, though the ballot papers involved rarely swing the outcome. Tie breakers only come when the number of votes after adjudication are exactly equal and a determination is made one way or another.

It cannot be denied that this is not the easiest of ballot papers to rule on. And once again it must be emphasised that everyone talking about this one online has not actually seen the paper in question. But from what has been reported it sounds like the Returning Officer ruled rightly that the ballot paper showed the voter selecting one of the candidates.

The Independent candidate has said he intends to bring an election petition to challenge the result. If he does then whatever the outcome it should at least provide a bit more case law to help future rulings and the booklet linked to here will need to be updated.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The collapse of Ukip - continued continued continued

Four Kippers sitting on a bench,
Four Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one more Kipper changes their listing on a website,
There'll be three Kippers left sitting on the bench.


Monday, April 15, 2019

The collapse of Ukip - continued continued

Six Kippers sitting on a bench,
Six Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper thinks the party's attitude to women is "disgusting",
There'll be five Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Five Kippers sitting on a bench,
Five Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper thinks the leader is dividing communities and creating "a distasteful regime",
There'll be four Kippers left sitting on the bench.


The collapse of Ukip - continued

Seven Kippers sitting on a bench,
Seven Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper thinks the party has walked away from them and the original membership,
There'll be six Kippers left sitting on the bench.


Sunday, December 09, 2018

The collapse of Ukip

Twenty-four Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-four Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should decide it's more important to fight for Brexit and defect,
There'll be twenty-three Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty-three Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-three Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should get expelled for "serious financial allegations",
There'll be twenty-two Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty-two Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-two Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should punch another's lights out,
There'll be twenty-one Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty-one Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-one Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find her relationship with the party "increasing difficult",
There'll be twenty Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should lose confidence in the latest leader and all the potential replacements,
There'll be nineteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Nineteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Nineteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should go and form his own local party,
There'll be eighteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Eighteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Eighteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find himself out of kilter with the party,
There'll be seventeen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Seventeen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Seventeen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should feel the party's been hijacked,
There'll be sixteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Sixteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Sixteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party has become a "vehicle of hate",
There'll be fifteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Fifteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Fifteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should discretely change her listing on a website,
There'll be fourteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Fourteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Fourteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party's direction an impediment to securing Brexit,
There'll be thirteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Thirteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Thirteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should point out the party wasn't founded to fight a religious crusade,
There'll be twelve Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twelve Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twelve Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party has left him,
There'll be eleven Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Eleven Kippers sitting on a bench,
Eleven Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party promoting English nationalism,
There'll be ten Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Ten Kippers sitting on a bench,
Ten Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should rush off to be Flash Gordon, Saviour of the Universe,
There'll be nine Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Nine Kippers sitting on a bench,
Nine Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party has lost its way,
There'll be eight Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Eight Kippers sitting on a bench,
Eight Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should be another to object to relations with the English Defence League founder,
There'll be seven Kippers left sitting on the bench.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Doctor Who on 23rd November

Doctor Who began on 23rd November 1963 and, with the odd break, has been going ever since in one form or another. But what episodes were first broadcast on this date? Here's a rundown.

1963: 100,000 BC: An Unearthly Child

Two teachers curious about a strange pupil whose registered address is a junk yard. They decide to investigate and discover a strange man and a police box full of surprises...

The very first episode of the very first story (which has multiple titles in use), this one naturally appears and amongst fans it's probably the single least criticised episode in the entire history of the series. It introduces the basics of the series though there's a lot of the mythology that is established later on.

1968: The Invasion Episode Four

The Doctor and Jamie, with help from the newly formed Unit (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), rescue fellow companion Zoe from the mysterious electronics businessman Tobias Vaughan, then continue to investigate his affairs only to discover he has some familiar business partners...

This is the only episode on the list which sadly no longer exists today due to the reuse of videotape. This may be the show's fifth anniversary but there's nothing in the episode that acknowledges this. Instead the story is looking to the future, serving as a pilot for a new format for the series that would become the norm in the next few years. This is a Cybermen adventure (particularly famous for the later scene where their invasion force marches down the steps in front of St Paul's Cathefral), but as is often the case with them they barely appear in the story and are only first seen halfway through this eight-part adventure.

1983: The Five Doctors

A mysterious individual lifts multiple past Doctors and their companions out of time and deposits them in the Death Zone, a dark dimension where creatures have fight to survive and discover the secret of the tower at the centre of it.

This feature-length episode celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the series and although in the UK it wasn't broadcast until the 25th November, it first aired two days earlier in the United States. Many past elements are reused in the story, although critics might note that the 1983 season had already seen use of Time Lords, the Master and the Brigadier (and would have also featured the Daleks but for a strike), but it works as acknowledgement of where the series has come from.

1987: Dragonfire Part One

The Doctor and Mel come to Iceworld, an intergalactic Iceland, where amidst the frozen food they find their old friend Sabalom Glitz in trouble with the sinister Kane amidst stories of hidden treasure guarded by a firebreathing dragon.

At the time of transmission Dragonfire was billed as the 150th Doctor Who story, although this depends on exactly how some earlier stories are and aren't counted (other numbers range from 146 to 153), but despite this and the transmission date there's no acknowledgement of the anniversary (Glitz is just a link to the previous season, a common feature in a new Doctor's first year). Instead the show is again looking to the future and showing its experimental nature with this homage to cinema that draws on the likes of Aliens and Star Wars. It also introduces Ace, one of the best written companions in the series and the model for many in the modern era.

1988: Silver Nemesis Part One

A group of Hitler supporting paramilitaries hiding in South America and wanting to establish the Fourth Reich, a 17th century lady with black magic powers, a bunch of alien invaders and the Doctor & Ace all converge on Windsor in 1988 where a comet crashes into the Earth containing a statue of unimaginable power...

For the show's silver anniversary the story does its best with limited resources, thus making a silver statue, a comet that comes near Earth every 25 years and silver aliens all key plot elements. The first episode also has a bunch of cameos from past cast and crew and even an almost encounter with the Queen. It's a fast paced runaround that does its best but there's another story in the season that has a stronger anniversary feel.

2013: The Day of the Doctor

The Doctor's two most recent incarnations team up as their hidden past self struggles with the final day of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks whilst Unit try to prevent a Zygon invasion of London...

The fiftieth anniversary of the series also serves as a conclusion to many plot points from the last eight years since the show's revival. As a result secrets are revealed, the years when the show was off air are addressed, there are returning old faces but there's also a clear statement for the future of the series. Elements have been building up for years and the result is a strong tribute to both the past and future of the show.

Friday, October 19, 2018

How to publicise railway works

Once upon a time "Operation London Bridge" referred to, well, London Bridge station.

In the 1970s a major project was undertaken to rearrange the railway tracks not just at London Bridge itself but right across south east London to avoid conflict on the different routes to Charing Cross and Canon Street and at the same time to rebuild the railway station to better serve customers.

What's interesting from the modern perspective is the way in which passengers were taken with the project. There was a concerted publicity effort not only to make sure passengers were aware that there was going to be disruption, but also to explain the aim of the improvements and get them on board.

A collection of leaflets and posters can be seen at Southern Railway Publicity, specifically at Station Improvements. Some of the design and level of information may seem odd from a modern perspective but the key message is clear throughout - this was a project to untangle a major blockage in the system and improve reliability.

There was even a special film made by British Transport Films:

Note how often signs would include the words "Operation London Bridge", again making it clear to passengers that this was all part of the major project. This was especially useful at stations some way out from London Bridge itself.

All in all the publicity side can be considered a great success. Today's railway managers could do well to look back at this and remember that just stating "engineering works" does nothing for customer satisfaction.

(What of the changes themselves? Well they made the station more efficient for Charing Cross and Canon Street but note there have so far been no references to Blackfriars and beyond. This is because at the time there was no regular service to there from London Bridge. It wasn't until the late 1980s that the old Snow Hill tunnel was re-opened to passenger services, thus creating Thameslink and massively transforming the needs of London Bridge, with the added problem that the route to Blackfriars brought its own complications. Hence the more recent Thameslink Programme upgrade.

Operation London Bridge may have improved operations around London Bridge itself, but one consequence was a segregation of tracks right out across south east London which could affect the available services as network-wide efficiency took precedence over local through connections. One notable long term casualty has been the Bromley North branch, as explained in detail at London Reconnections: The Past and Future of the Bromley North Branch.)


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