Thursday 7 June 2012

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Polling Stations

Earlier in May, I was yet again wielding the mightly 30cm Plastic Ruler of Democracy, as a Presiding Offier at a polling station for the local election and the mayoral referendum. It inspired this, which I call the Curmudgeon's Guide to Polling Stations, aka "Advice for Voters".
  • You will usually see two people behind the desk. One will have books of ballot papers in front of them. Approach the other, who will usually be seated nearest the door, and have a set of names and addresses in front of them. This is the Poll Clerk, with the electoral register.  
  • If you don’t have your poll card with you, introduce yourself the wrong way round! Most people give their name first, then their house number, then their street. The register lists streets alphabetically, then house numbers, then names. Give the street first, then your house number, then your name, and the Poll Clerk will find you a lot faster. 
  • (NB you do NOT need your poll card to vote unless you have an anonymous entry on the register. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are wrong. Nor do you need proof of identity.) 
  • If the Poll Clerk reads out a funny number, it relates neither to their getting your house number or your age wrong. This is your elector number, which the other person – the Presiding Officer – needs to record that you have been issued a ballot paper. Incidentally, the Presiding Officer (usually issuing the ballot papers) is in charge of the polling station – don’t be fooled by the fact that they are not the one greeting you! 
  • You have the right to ask for help. You can have a magnifying glass, a tactile voting device if you have very poor vision, assistance from the Presiding Officer or Poll Clerk if you don’t understand what’s on the ballot paper, or you can take a companion into the booth with you (they will need to sign a simple form to say that they have assisted you), and you can come back later if you want to take more time to think about it. 
  • The one thing the staff cannot do is tell you how to vote. That’s up to you.
  • You have the right to vote if you have a ballot paper in your hand by 10pm. If you don’t, you can’t. If you disagree, write to your MP pronto and ask for a change in the law. 
  • Staff eating pasta salads or reading the paper whilst sat at the polling desk reflects not a lack of professionalism, but the fact that they are there from 6.30am to 10.15pm without a break. Yes. WITHOUT A BREAK. 
  • If the staff sound like robots, please bear in mind the following: a) they are not ALLOWED to give opinions on any of the issues being decided, the candidates, or the parties involved, lest they be accused of influencing voters, b) after the first 50 or so voters, they will have said “Yes, it is quite warm in here”, “Yes, it is quite a long day”, “It’s been quite busy” about 50 or so times. Repeat as required throughout the day – EVERYONE asks the same questions! 
  • Please refrain from abusing the fact that the polling station staff are not legally allowed to leave the polling station to lurk by the desk and buttonhole them with your personal views about the local area, the local councillor, or the local council. They can’t respond, and they very probably aren’t from the local area anyway. (Personally I have some sympathy for lonely older people who are taking their best chance of the day to have a conversation with someone. Everyone else will be very politely requested to leave my polling station as soon as is decently possible.)

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