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Vote early

Why is everything so complicated?

It started before I left the house. Where was my poll card? I know that you don’t need a poll card to vote – you just have to turn up, tell them where you live and what your name is – but I like to take it – it makes me feel more honest somehow. Could I find the damn thing? Could I heckers-like.

So of course, that meant having a plan for what to do if I turned up and they told me that somebody had already turned up, claimed to be me and voted. I would be disenfranchised. I would be devastated. Obviously there would be no point kicking up a fuss – it’s not their fault.

They probably have a plan for this sort of thing.

My plan would be to phone the police and insist on any ballot boxes used up to that point being clearly marked and set on one side. It might help if they had CCTV at the polling station (they don’t) or make a note of the time that someone voted (they don’t). I decided that the best approach would be to extract the ballot paper (probably fiendishly difficult from a legal point of view) and test it for finger prints – at least that would prove that it wasn’t me and it might throw up a name.

So I went out sans polling card. Also sans coat, because, when I left the house, it was really rather nice. By the time I got to the end of my (very short) street, it looked as if the heavens were about to open – should I go back and get a coat – perhaps wellingtons and an umbrella – or plough on? I ploughed on.

Got to the polling station. Gave my address and name. Got a ballot paper – nobody had, after all, turned up claiming to be me. Went into the polling booth.

At the EU referendum, I’d planned to photograph my ballot paper to prove that I’d voted the way I said I’d voted and written what I said I’d written. There was a sign up saying that you couldn’t take photographs, which I was tempted to ignore, but remembered that I’d also signed a declaration of secrecy and thought better of it.

On reflection, I thought about the way that people these days don’t only talk about, but tell the world how they’ve voted.

I also thought about how this might create a pressure for people to conform – an expectation that you should tell people how you voted.

I thought about people who might find themselves in a situation where they are told how to vote. What could be easier than insisting that a wife, a daughter, an employee or a tenant should photograph their ballot paper to prove that they’d done as they were told?

I decided that the secret ballot was a good thing and was worth defending.

It’s not there to protect robust and articulate middle class people – it’s there to create a safe space for women from the most patriarchal of communities (that word again) to express their own view and to have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. A polling booth, for all it’s crudity, for all its knocked- together-with-a- few-bits- of-wood-ness, for all its pencil-on-a-bit-of-string-ness, for all its cross-on-a-bit-of-paper-ness is a more powerful agent of liberty than any number of iconic statues or lofty declarations.

So that’s why I won’t photograph my ballot paper or publicize my vote on social media and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t support online voting.


Postscript:

“No person shall” […] “directly or indirectly induce a voter to display his ballot paper after he has marked it so as to make known to any person the name of the candidate for whom he has or has not voted.”

Representation of the People Act, 1983 Section 66, sub-section (6)