A pain in the polling station

Pat the Chooks has a secret past as an agent of the democratic processes at large in this country until recent years (or until a certain government managed even to bring elections into disrepute. No doubt the answer will be to curtail elections as other civil liberties have been so successfully vanished before the unseeing eyes of Her Majesty’s subjects), viz. a presiding officer at polling stations in local and parliamentary elections. It is with interest, therefore, that this voter descends upon any polling station not under his own jurisdiction to see how well the principles and procedures of the secret ballot are being applied. There is a certain element of the staffing of polling stations who learned the craft at the knee of the presiding officer when they were but a polling clerk, and the presiding officer before them learnt it at the knee of another when they were but a clerk, etc. The problem with this arrangement is that you frequently get polling stations manned by old duffers who frankly haven’t got a clue how to do even such a simple thing as issue a ballot paper or deal with the everyday errors that voters can make. For instance (at last, they cry, some substantive information!) I toddled up to the village hall before going in to work this morning to exercise my franchise. The polling station was, to give it its due, well-marked from the road. Inside, the presiding officer was sat closest to the door because the polling clerk “felt the cold more”. This meant that the logical workflow of stating one’s identity to the polling clerk meant either walking past the presiding officer, or, assuming the presiding officer was the polling clerk and having to repeat oneself. A minor niggle, but one which will be appreciated by any reader who has staffed a well-organised polling station. The second problem was that I was handed a ballot paper which had not been folded by the presiding officer, contrary to the instructions to presiding officers. There is a good reason for this, in that it encourages the voter, having marked their paper, to re-fold it neatly to preserve the secrecy of their ballot on the journey between the booth and the ballot box itself. When I asked for the ballot paper to be folded before I took it, the presiding officer kindly suggested that she could do that for me, but mean old PTC suggested rather that she should do just that. I wasn’t feeling quite so mean as “accidentally” to spoil my ballot paper and ask for a new one (to which the voter is perfectly entitled) and give her a nice, but legitimate, problem for her ballot paper account at the end of the evening. Oh, it does make me cross!

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