What can you do to ensure elections are properly conducted?

I got really hacked off with the daft vote rigging stories that circulated after the IndyRef and wrote one calm post and one less calm as people shifted ground. 

This post explains the basis process.  

Each step of the entire process can be observed by people appointed by the various campaigns.  In addition, the staff at the polling station and count are drawn from a range of people : council staff and beyond and they are rarely left alone.  Any intent to subvert the process would require an awful lot of people to stay quiet.  

I've given references to the main source documents at the end for those who want to read more details.  


The most important thing you can do is check your own ballot paper for an official mark on the front of the ballot paper and an unique identifying mark on the back.   

Official Mark

An appropriate security mark - the ‘official mark’–is required by law to be added to the ballot paper. The mark should be distinctive and does not have to be a perforation added at the time of issue of the ballot paper, although stamping instruments may still be used to create a perforating official
mark. It could be a printed emblem or mark or a special printing device such as a watermark. It should be capable of being seen on the front of the ballot paper so that it can be seen without having to turn the ballot paper over.

By law, the official mark can be the same for all ballot papers at an election or different official marks can be used fordifferent purposes at the same election, for example, one for postal votes and another for polling station ballot papers.
The official mark cannot be re-used for seven years at a UK Parliamentary election to the same constituency

Ballot paper numbers and the unique identifying mark

Ballot paper numbers should run consecutively, but do not have to start at ‘1’.
The unique identifying mark can be letters and numbers and could be a repeat of the ballot paper number with the addition of a prefix or a suffix. Also a unique identifying mark can be, but does not have to be, a barcode. It is not the same as the official mark.

The unique identifying mark should be unique for each ballot paper and must be printed on the back of the ballot paper.

In addition to the unique identifying mark, the following information is required by law to be included on the ballot paper reverse in the following
  • Number
  • [Other unique identifying mark]
  • United Kingdom Parliamentary election in the constituency of [insert name of constituency]
  • on ........................20....
 If in doubt, ask the Presiding Officer or Polling Clerk to point out the Offical Mark and the unique identifing number to you before you cast your ballot.    


 These are people outside the polling place, collecting information on who has voted as people arrive.  There should be no more than one per candidate and they must no impede voters in any way and have no rights to insist on being told anything.   

They are collecting information for political parties so they can 'knock up' supporters who haven't voted yet later in the day.  They are not there to persuade people to vote : if someone asks question, take the person outside of the Polling place to answer.  

Tellers should wear coloured rosettes of a reasonable size, as this assists electors by making it clear that they are party workers and not electoral officials. The rosette may display the name of a candidate and/or a registered party name, emblem or description.  Tellers must not wear, carry or display any headwear, footwear or other apparel that carries any writing, picture or sign relating to any candidate or party apart from a rosette.

Sometimes polling agents are also tellers but anything learnt while inside the polling station must not be divulged to anyone.  

Tellers have no scrutiny role or rights.  If the Presiding Officer thinks you are being a nuisance, you will require you to leave the Polling Place.

Polling Agent

Agents can appoint more or less as many of these as they like.  Don't however volunteer unless you are willing to take the duties seriously.  If you reveal how anyone voted or indeed that someone has voted from information gained whilst inside the polling station, you are commiting a serious offense.    Names and addresses need to be given by the Agent for candidates five days before the poll.

The main rights of polling agents on polling day are summarised below:
  • To be present at their designated polling station before the opening of the poll to observe the Presiding Officer showing the empty ballot box prior to sealing.
  • To detect personation and prevent people voting more than once at the same election. Voters who are believed to have committed the offence of personation or who attempt to vote twice should be challenged before they leave the pollingstation. To do this effectively, the polling agent should require the Presiding Officer to put the statutory questions to the elector before they are issued with a ballot paper. No further enquiries beyond the statutory questions may be made.
  • To report to their election agent/candidate any improper occurrences and retain notes for use in giving evidence to a court, if required.
  • To be present when the Presiding Officer marks ballot papers at the request of electors.
  • To be present at the close of poll when the various packets of documents are sealed.
  • At the close of poll, the polling agent may attach their seal to any packets made up by the Presiding Officer, including the ballot box. (Please note that polling agents’ seals cannot be attached to ballot boxes at the commencement of or during the poll.)
  • Polling agents must maintain the secrecy of the ballot. They must not give information to anyone as to who has or has not voted, or a person’s electoral number, or the official mark. Although polling agents may mark off on their copy of the register of electors those voters who have applied for ballot papers, if they leave the polling station during the hours of polling, their marked copy of the register should be left in the polling station in order not to breach the secrecy requirements.
Polling Agents may wear a rosette in their party colours with its normal symbol on it.  

There are also Postal Vote Agents who oversee the opening of the envelopes, the checking of the signatures and other ID and then witness bundles of postal votes being sealed into ballot boxes ready to be taken to the count.  This takes postal votes to the verification phase.  

Counting Agents 

There are two main stages to a count: verification and the actual count.


Staff must open the ballot boxes in the presence of any counting agents and observers
that are present. When a box has had a seal attached by an agent at the close of the poll, particular care should be taken to show to any agents and observers present that this seal
is still intact prior to it being broken. The ballot papers should be carefully tipped onto the table, ensuring that none have fallen onto the floor and that the box is empty. 

There is a legal duty to keep the ballot papers face up at all times during the verification and count. 
The empty box is shown to the agents and observers so that they can be satisfied that it is indeed empty. The counting assistants should then unfold the ballot papers and count them into bundles. Accuracy at this stage is vital, so bundles should be passed to another assistant for rechecking. Any tendered ballot papers that have been mistakenly placed in the ballot box during the day should be removed and handed to the supervisor.

The totals given on the ballot paper account must be compared against the number of ballot papers counted and recorded as being present inside the ballot box. The total number of ballot papers in the ballot box should agree with the total on the ballot
paper account.

At this stage, party counting agents will often by busy tallying - doing a quick sample of ballot papers to see how many votes they are getting - and how many their opponents have.  This is the finest levfel of electoral infrmation available to parties so they are keen to know.  So they will know very quickly if there is good news or bad news for thei candidate.  

A good tallying operation can get a 50% + sample and with a bit of care, can predict the result with a high degree of accuracy. 

Once a ballot box has veen verified, the papers will be put into a big pile ready for the next stage : the actual counting.  


Ballot papers must be kept face upwards throughout the counting process in order to prevent the number and other unique identifying mark on the back of the ballot paper being seen. The ballot papers should be visible at all times to any candidates, agents and observers present.

Counting assistants should sort the ballot papers into votes for each candidate. Doubtful ballot papers should be placed aside for adjudication.

Counting agents will watch carefully to ensure that none of the own candidates papers are added to the wrong pile and in particular that the top of the pile matches all the papers in the pile.  

Counting Agents are able to make reasonable requests that any paper is regarded as dubious and they may agree that the intention of a paper is clear and it doesn't need to go for adjudication to the Returning Officer and the Agents.  But they mustn't touch ballot papers or interfere with the Counting assistants.  

Source Guides

Electoral Commission Guidance for Candidate and Agents
Electoral Commission : Administering the Poll
Electoral Commission: Verifying and Counting the Votes

No comments:

Post a Comment

I am happy to address most contributions if they are coherent. Comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will be posted.

Please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.