On receiving my ballot paper for the European elections I was rather surprised to find the ‘An Independence from Europe’ party slap bang at the top of the paper with, naturally UKIP at the bottom. It seemed quite clear to me that any party beginning their name with an ‘An’ is seeking to exploit the rather primitive and unenlightened method of alphabetical ordering to determine which name the voter sees first. This is even more significant when the ballot paper is very long and not all parties can be seen at a glance.
I was concerned.
That concern was heightened when I received an election leaflet from the ‘An’ party which made the point strongly that their name would be at the top of the list. I then decided to see if I could find out what on earth the electoral commission does for its board and keep. So far the results are not encouraging.
Not surprisingly my first couple of emails were met with the usual fobbing off and unconvincing explanation. Apparently they decided this was perfectly ok though I’m still not convinced.
Patronising replies from them simply lead me to ask more questions and my latest reply, below, encapsulates nicely where I am going with this and you don’t really need to be party to the earlier emails to get the gist. I’ve yet to receive a response to this missive.
Even though it is a subject deserving of some attention it isn’t getting any and it doesn’t seem as though it will unless some waves are produced.
Thank you for your reply.
As to the first point I may be able to help you here.
Part 2, section 28A, 2,e, 1 and 2 provide ample scope for you to intervene where a fabricated name deliberately employed in order to affect the position on the ballot paper, in conjunction with a similarity of name to another party must give cause to consider that confusion may result. This is not a matter of considering alphabetical order as you so conveniently describe my concern but to the acceptance of a naming convention that seeks to influence a natural order hitherto and presumably considered to be benign by people who know no better. Were the commission to be minded to there is scope in the PPERA to reject a name for those reasons.
As for my second point you clearly misunderstood or, less benevolently, deliberately reframed my question into a form that would make such actions clearly unreasonable. It is not every party name or even any party name that needs this kind of scrutiny as it is the ballot paper that has to be tested where there is a possibility that an elector may mistake one party for another because of the name, the position on the ballot paper or a combination of both. In this election only some of the names would fall into this category. It is the ballot paper as listed that needs validation and the results of that will tell you which party names are at fault. Only then could you reasonably determine the integrity of the ballot paper listing.
The process would be to seek a cross section of people intending to vote in the election and ask them to complete the ballot paper (perhaps 300). Immediately after that action they would then be asked which party they had intended to vote for and that answer matched with the vote itself. If, of those 300 people, nobody made a mistake then you can be pretty sure that the ballot paper can be said to maintain a high degree of integrity. If, on the other hand 25 people voted for the wrong party based on a misleading name and the order on the ballot paper then the paper has low integrity and would be likely to wrongfully affect the outcome. If the 25 errors were all associated with a vote intended for UKIP but given to another the overall percentage error would be very high. In short the ballot paper would be compromised and the offending party names must be disallowed. Such consumer evaluation is quite commonplace and readily and easily accomplished. For something as important as a national election it is absolutely incredible that you couldn’t be bothered to test this properly.
I’m sorry to include a description of how to validate a ballot paper but it seems as an organisation you are incapable of arriving at such a simple solution yourselves. Allowing the ‘Remember Lee Rigby’ party name to be included on the Welsh ballot paper for which you then have to offer an abject apology shows, that unfortunately, you do not have your eye on the ball very often.
As you haven’t answered my question directly I presume that I can infer that the commission does not include anyone with expertise in the psychological effects of listing and ordering and neither do you systematically seek to enlighten yourselves when faced with a question you appear to be unqualified to answer with any degree of accuracy. If I have this right the commission take an uneducated, but perhaps not impartial, stab at whether or not they think a name is acceptable.
You mention that you take into account range of factors so perhaps you could list all the factors considered in allowing the ‘An Independence from Europe’ party on the ballot paper in the top position and exactly what details about those factors you considered and which of them drew a higher weighting, if that happened, and why? How was the decision reached and confirmed and did all the commissioners take part? Was this issue discussed as an item in itself? The answer may well help me to understand how you arrived at your conclusions.
It may escape the commission, but not the many observers, that allowing, in particular, a name very like UKIP with an artificial and fabricated beginning designed to secure first place on the ballot paper may be in the interests of the four commission members nominated by existing political parties that already have a parliamentary presence. This possibility challenges directly the independence and impartiality of the commission. I can imagine a conversation, but in no way suggest that it actually happened, along the lines of:
“Oh that’s fortunate, a party name just like UKIP at the top of the ballot paper. I think we’ll let that one go through.”
It makes it much more difficult to counter such a suggestion when the decision to allow this party name to appear is made with no substantiated corroborative evidence whatsoever.
One last thing, as the names of the commissioners and, particularly, their nominating parties, is strangely difficult to find on your website I would like this information in your reply.
I await a response but at this time I thought the letter it worth sharing. I’m actually quite surprised that there has been so little reaction to an attempt to subvert a bastion of our democracy that of free and fair elections. You know, the kind of thing we are really comfortable in lecturing the rest of the world on.
However, since postal voting and its innumerable deficiencies already amply exploited, perhaps we’re not so bothered about electoral probity and can afford to employ a biased quango with no relevant experience and, it seems, little enthusiasm to do the job properly.