Petticoat Council – cheesy name, historic achievement

Chris Game

Nottingham Castle reopened to visitors recently, after a Covid-protracted three-year closure for what was anyway going to be a pretty extensive renovation. Even unrenovated, the castle has always been a good visit, not least for its exhibitions, which now include an enticingly named Rebellion Gallery, whose current Nottingham-focused displays, curated by University of Nottingham historian Dr Richard Gaunt, comprise the Civil War, the Luddite movement, and parliamentary reform with particular emphasis on women’s suffrage.

For reasons that will become clear, it was the last of these that particularly resonated with me – and one (poorly phone-photographed) bar chart in particular.

While its primary aim is presumably to emphasise the length of the continually frustrated campaign for women’s suffrage, it also showed how, near the start of that campaign, some women – those that “met the property ownership requirements” – actually lost their right to vote during the 1830s.

The otherwise franchise-extending 1832 Reform Act specified ‘male persons’ only, depriving at least small numbers of property-owning women of their parliamentary vote until 1918. And the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act excluded them from local elections – until 1869/70, when unmarried women ratepayers were granted the right to vote in first municipal council and then the new school board elections.

Between those dates, though, and with no confounding documentary evidence, it was widely believed, and taught, even in Patricia Hollis’ ‘bible’ – Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865-1914 (Appendix B) – that women lost their voting rights completely, just like the 0%, 0%, 0% on the Nottingham bar chart.

Taught by me too, until a few years ago when I caught by chance a BBC Sounds broadcast describing the discovery of documentary evidence of at least some West Midlands women casting votes in local elections decades before those history books told us the 1869 Municipal Franchise Act legalised it.

The BBC programme described the recent discovery in Lichfield Record Office of an 1843 Poll Book. Compiled apparently for local Conservative Party campaigning purposes, it detailed all voters in that year’s St Chad’s Parish election of an Assistant Overseer of the Poor – the bloke (naturally) with responsibility for outdoor (cash) or indoor (workhouse) poor relief.

And of the 371 voters in that 1843 election …. 30 were women, including one, an evidently very well-heeled Grace Brown, with no fewer than four votes. It was a genuine, history-rewriting discovery – though not in fact the main point of this blog.

For that we must turn to the programme’s presenter: Sarah Richardson, nowadays Professor of History at Warwick University, and author of the then recently published The Political Worlds of Women: Gender and Politics in Nineteenth Century Britain.

Totally relevant, obviously, but Richardson’s even more pertinent role here must surely be one unmentioned in her University profile: longstanding Governor and currently Chair of Governors at Bishop’s Itchington Primary School.

Bishop’s Itchington is a South Warwickshire village/parish south-east of Royal Leamington Spa and about 18 miles from Coventry, which, as we’ll see, is more immediately relevant. It has a lengthy history too, its name combining references to the passing River Itchen and the Bishop of the afore-mentioned Lichfield Cathedral.

In many European countries, and unquestionably in France with its 35,000 communes, even its reduced present-day population of around 2,000 would make Bishop’s Itchington what we would call a principal local authority in its own right, with an elected mayor, a full range of local powers and responsibilities, and significant control of its own funding.

But in a middle England parish council, without even these basics, where, you might reasonably ask, is there the potential even for much passing interest, never mind drama?  To which the answer is: in its elected councillors, and, more precisely, those elected in 1949 to form what became the first female majority council in the UK.

It’s a hefty claim, but, in respect of a village/parish whose primary school Chair of Governors just happens to be a national authority on such matters, pretty authoritative.

Profesor Richardson herself summarises – this time on YouTube.  Edith Chapple-Hyam, Chair of the village Women’s Institute, was fed up with the all-male parish council’s lack of action on issues such as accessible electricity and running water, social housing, policing and speed restrictions, the sewage works, and public spaces, particularly for children.

In short, she and her WI members saw areas like Coventry being built up after the War and wanted a piece of the action.  So, when an election was announced, she and five WI committee members submitted their nominations.

Most of the sitting councillors assumed that, as no doubt regularly happened, the election would go uncontested and they would be re-elected by default.  Only one, therefore, bothered to submit his papers before nominations closed.

He was duly elected, but alongside all six women, who effectively – in both senses – took over.  And now, just the 72 years on, the Bishop’s Itchington story has been both informatively and highly entertainingly dramatised as a ‘folk musical’ and one of Coventry’s UK City of Culture 2021 events.

Entitled ‘Petticoat Council’, I saw it myself recently, and the mix of storytelling, song, dance and puppetry melded together by playwright Frankie Meredith – herself the great-niece of Ivy Payne, one of the six victorious councillors – is a delight, unquestionably worth catching if you ever get the chance.

My sole initial reservation had been the slightly cheesy title, for which I was prepared to blame the Americans, who had instantly labelled a very similar women’s power grab in Umatilla, Oregon back in 1916 a ‘Petticoat Revolution’.

But I was wrong. It apparently came from a local newspaper, reporting in 1952 how the men on the council were plotting to “overthrow petticoat rule”, as “the women have been getting too bossy”. Material for a sequel perhaps?

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A version of this blog, with an accompanying photograph – of the councillors, not me – was published in the Birmingham Post on 15th July under the title The ‘Petticoat Council’ and a slice of Midland History

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.

The surge of migration-related city networks around world: between militancy or co-optation

Thomas Lacroix


In December 2018, a delegation of mayors from various parts of the world attended in Marrakech the signature of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migrations. Their presence was not random: the compact acknowledges local governments as a key level of implementation of its objectives. Cities were largely absent from the international discussions on migration only a decade ago. They are now regarded as a central player of global migration governance, along with states and civil society organisations. This influence is directly related to the surge in the number of migration-related city networks around the world. These networks are lesser-known than their leading mayoral figures such as Marvin Rees in Bristol, Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, Luca Orlando in Palermo or Valérie Plante in Montreal. But, together, they form a web of interconnected cities advancing a progressive agenda for the welcoming and integration of immigrant populations. In a recently published article of Local Government Studies, I provide a picture of their extend, types and activities. This work draws on a database mustered through internet search between Spring 2019 and July 2020, compiling information on their members, date of creation, activities and funding. Three key findings emerge from this analysis.

First, the surge of such groupings is a relatively recent phenomenon. If city networks are far from being a novelty, their concern for migration issues has been spreading since the early 2000s. Out of the 64 included in this database, 45 have been founded since 2000, and 24 since 2011. Three drivers account for this. In the first place, local authorities occupy a growing place in the agenda of international organisations. A larger share of development aid is geared towards cities (deemed as trustful and less prone to corruption than state administrations). In parallel, local authorities fill a void on issues such as climate change and migration where intergovernmental cooperation is in a deadlock. In consequence, inter- and supranational organisations support the creation of city networks on these strategic issues. In the second place, the wave of decentralisation reforms undergone by Southern and Northern cities since the early nineties have left local authorities with a broader range of responsibilities (including on integration issues), but no more financial resources. Municipalities turn towards alternative sources of financing: project-based funding bids, city to city partnerships, engagement with the private and third sectors. In the third place, the security approach to immigration in receiving countries has affected cities: the growing pressure and precariousness undergone by immigrants hinder their integration prospects. In reaction, many cities develop narratives challenging this security approach. They hail immigrants as economic actors of a vibrant cosmopolitan city or as human beings in need for welfare, education and health support. This engagement has propelled the multiplication of grassroots networks of like-minded cities in want of promoting an alternative management to immigrant populations.

From this follows a second finding, i.e. the distinction between co-opted and grassroots networks. The former, sponsored by external funding bodies, adhere to their agenda. This is true for the URBACT network which stems from the Urban Agenda of the European Union. The latter are spontaneous organisations formed by local authorities in want of sharing a space for common concerns. In the field of migration, this is illustrated by politicised networks opposing state policies: the sanctuary policies movement in the US, the ANVITA association in France, etc. Of course, these categories are porous. Eurocities is a grassroots European network created in the late eighties which is now largely funded by EU institutions. However, the initial conditions of their creation explain the divergent orientations of their activities. Both types foster exchange of experience and best practices, but co-opted organisations have more financial means to support projects while grassroot ones are more likely to engage in lobbying and awareness-raising activities.

 GlobalRégionalNationalTotal
Europe12151239
Amérique du Sud4117
Amérique du Nord 921
Océanie 213
Afrique5219
Asie1115

Third, this surge of migration-related city networks is a global but unevenly distributed phenomenon. 36 are them are located in Europe and North America. If we add to those the 12 world networks connected to these spaces, one counts three quarters of city networks including major immigration country localities among their members. The types and scales of these networks vary in different parts of the world. In Southern countries, they are almost exclusively organisations sponsored by international organisations: Sello migrante network, a group of cities developing welcoming policies for refugees in Latin America and supported by the High Commission for Refugees, is a case in point. In contrast, in North America, they are mostly grassroots networks gathering cities in reaction to policies targeting undocumented migrants: beyond the sanctuary cities movement, Welcoming America and City for Actions are but a few examples. Europe displays a mixed landscape, with co-opted networks supported by the EU or the Council of Europe for the promotion of local integration policies and more recent grassroots organisations reacting to restrictive migration policies.

Image Source: Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/
Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – http://www.nyphotographic.com/

Thomas Lacroix is CNRS research director in geography affiliated to the Maison Française of Oxford. He works on local migration governance, city networks and the formation of the transnational state. He recently published with Amandine Desille “International Migrations and local Governance” (Palgrave, 2018)

At last, some good news for social care

Jason Lowther

It’s been another tough month for social care.  The House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee concluded that the White Paper  ducked the issue of long term reform, whilst Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied to two parliamentary committees that he’d ever promised to test hospital patients for Covid before discharging them to care homes.  It would be easy for social care colleagues to feel a little unloved.  Good news, then, that a new centre aiming to help adult social care is starting work.

This month, the ‘UK Centre for Evidence IMPlementation in Adult Social Care’ (IMPACT) starts its initial engagement work.  IMPACT aims to both enable practical improvements in adult social care and contribute to longer-term cultural change.  IMPACT will be an ‘implementation centre’, using knowledge from ‘different types of research, the lived experience of people using services and their carers, and the practice wisdom of social care staff’.  It will take a distinctive approach in each of the four nations of the UK, recognising the different policy contexts in each, as well as sharing learning across the UK as a whole. 

Their core belief is based on the words of one of the people using services who has helped to shape proposals for the new centre:

“good support isn’t just about ‘services’ – it’s about having a life”.

The centre aims to provide practical support in implementing evidence, bring stakeholders together to share learning, and create sustainable change in adult social care.   Working with people with lived experience of adult social care services and a range of existing policy and practice partners, their objectives are:

Supporting more widespread use of evidence in adult social care, leading to better carepractices, systems and outcomes for people who use services, their families and communities

Building capacity and skills in the adult social care workforce to work with evidence ofdifferent kinds to innovate, improve care and deliver better outcomes

Facilitating sustainable and productive relationships between the full range of adultsocial care stakeholders to co-create positive change/innovations and improve outcomes for people using adult social care and their families

Improving understanding of the factors which help and hinder the implementation of evidence in practice, and using this to overcome longstanding barriers to positive change

Directed by Professor Jon Glasby from our sister department at the University of Birmingham, the centre has a Leadership Team of 12 other academics, people using social care services, and policy and practice partners – along with a broader consortium of key stakeholders from across the sector.  Funding of £15 million has been provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, and the Health Foundation. 

IMPACT will have a one-year establishment phase in which its key projects, delivery models and work programme will be refined in discussion with the sector, ready for delivery (2023-2027).

The initial engagement process includes a survey of stakeholders, to which colleagues working in social care are invited to contribute, to help identify priorities for the sector, and to help develop a draft work programme and ideas for delivery.  It would be great if you could complete a short survey (approx. 10 mins) to help shape the work: https://bham.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9tnuKolsBb3OfGu – this will contribute directly to the design of the work programme and how the new centre develops. 

In addition, there will be five linked ‘IMPACT Assemblies’ (two in England and one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to identify and build consensus around IMPACT’s priorities; test and refine proposed delivery models; and support subsequent scaling up and cultural change.  There will also be a national exercise to build links with user-led organisations and community groups that work with and for people with seldom heard voices.  Finally, there will be a review and synthesis of the key principles and frameworks currently used in social care and health to support co-production.  If you want to find out more as IMPACT starts its work, please email [email protected] with your name, role and location.  There is more information via the website and a recent article in the social care trade press.

It’s exciting to see this centre starting its important work, especially given the long delays to the promised White Paper on social care and the critical challenges facing the sector after Covid.

picture source: The Guardian

Jason Lowther is Director of the Institute for Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), University of Birmingham

Let’s Tackle Covid

Cllr Ketan Sheth

The ‘mass vaccination event’ at Twickenham Stadium on the Spring Bank Holiday was a proud day for the NHS and local government. The North West London NHS and Hounslow Council, supported by the Rugby Football Union, pulled off this remarkable day with less than a week to plan, following a surge in Covid cases in Hounslow.

The communications around the event included the obvious routes of national, local and social media, but also included targeted door knocking in Hounslow. During the day, as it became clear that there were likely to be some vaccines left over, the local NHS took the wise decision to open up the offer to anyone aged 18 and over and this was quickly picked up and reported by the BBC, Sky and other media outlets. The result was a huge spike in demand towards the end of the day. By the close, over 11,000 people had been vaccinated – a record for a single day at one venue in the UK. Those behind this effort are to be hugely congratulated.

There are three lessons I think we can learn from this remarkable event. First, it may be a myth that young people don’t want to get vaccinated. Most of those turning up when the offer was extended were under 30. Media reports talked of a ‘festival atmosphere’ and those who attended have confirmed to me that there was a real ‘buzz’ among the young people coming forward. A number of young people turned up with older family members, having persuaded them belatedly that they should be vaccinated. While time will tell, this does suggest that there may be more enthusiasm among younger people for getting vaccinated than had been previously suggested.

Second, and perhaps more contentiously, the quicker we open up to all age groups, the easier it will be to coordinate the vaccine effort. Had the whole day been open to anyone aged over 18, it is likely the demand would have been even higher throughout the day. While the initial targeting of older and more vulnerable people made sense, it becomes harder to justify as we move down through the age groups – and harder for the NHS to coordinate and promote vaccination. We might also want to think about vaccinating people at their convenience wherever they live – while the event was targeted at Hounslow residents and others in the NHS ‘North West London’ sector, I know people from Richmond were not turned away.

Finally, what we can learn is that if everyone pulls together and works as one team, remarkable things can be achieved, even in short space of time. This is a lesson that extends beyond Covid-19 and the vaccination programme – and bodes well for ‘integrated care systems’, in which the NHS and local authorities are expected to work in statutory partnerships in the years ahead.

Cllr Ketan Sheth is Chair of Brent Council‘s Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee and Chair of NW London Joint Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee 

Help council commissioning to ‘build back better’

Jason Lowther

Local government is digging deep into its financial reserves and hiking council tax bills by double inflation, but still anticipates making further service cuts in 2021–22. The Public Accounts Committee report earlier this month shows how central government support hasn’t matched Covid-related budget reductions. More positively, at the same time, councils and partners are eyeing the improvements made to commissioning and procurement during the pandemic and asking whether these could help balance the budget. Can adding value to local government’s annual procurement spend of £100bn help improve outcomes for citizens, sustain local councils, and build a better recovery?

As NESTA’s recent report, A Catalyst for Change, evidenced, councils’ collaboration with other public sector bodies, citizens and the voluntary and private sectors was at the centre of the response to COVID-19. Local authorities ‘stepped into their role as conveners, leveraged their existing relationships and partnerships, and forged new ones to dynamically address key issues. This allowed organisations to link up volunteers with vulnerable people, support businesses, deliver food parcels or find temporary accommodation for rough sleepers’.

I’ve heard from some of the council managers on INLOGOV’s teaching programmes of the amazing agility and flexibility councils have been able to develop with partners in areas such as social care and housing. Commissioning and procurement processes that in the past were seen as inflexible, slow, risk-averse, price-obsessed and lacking innovation were transformed rapidly in response to the immediate threats of the pandemic. Data was shared in more depth and quickly, enabling better targeting of services. More flexible financial and performance management arrangements opened the door to flexible service delivery.

Now, a major research programme led by Dr. Richard Simmons at Stirling University, called Optimising Outcomes, is looking at the impact of Covid on partnering and procurement. The programme is working with key sector bodies such as CIPFA and SOLACE as well as universities and research councils, to answer key questions such as:

  • How, and how effectively, are local authorities deploying their commissioning and procurement functions to address the challenges posed by Covid-19? What are the successes to be celebrated? Where are the tensions that need to be managed? Where is the system at risk of breaking down?
  • What are the opportunities for improved procurement performance? How do local authorities optimise every aspect of procurement spend?
  • Can local authorities adopt more innovative, strategic, entrepreneurial and relational approaches to strengthen local resilience and avoid a weak and incapacitated system?
  • What role can greater data-analytic capacity play in supporting a more agile and effective response?

As part of this research, council managers have been invited to take part in a survey to capture learning from the many challenges and achievements of the sector during the last year.  The survey is aimed at all UK council managers (there is a separate survey for procurement teams) and takes around 10 minutes to complete.  The closing date for responses is 21st June.

If you are a UK council manager and haven’t yet taken part, please would you complete the survey here.    

This is a great opportunity to ‘build back better’ by applying the lessons and innovations councils and partners have developed over the last 18 months. I’ll report back on the results later this year.

Source: DHSC website

Jason Lowther is Director of the Institute for Local Government Studies (INLOGOV)

87,214 Londoners disenfranchised for over-voting: What happened to ‘divining the voter’s intention’?

Chris Game

 

Six months ago, while Donald Trump’s backers were issuing lawsuits to have vote-counting stopped in states threatening to swing from Republican to Democrat, Biden supporters marched with banners calling on officials to ‘Count Every Vote’. Examining the statistics of the recent London Mayoral election count, I can identify at least with their message.

Our elected Mayoral and Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections have from the outset used the ‘preferential’ Supplementary Vote (SV) system, involving potentially a second round run-off between the two leading first-round candidates to ensure the winner is elected with an overall majority. It’s hardly brain-straining, and offers voters fractionally greater choice than ‘First-Past-The-Post’, with which – for barely disguised partisan reasons – the Home Secretary plans to replace it.

The SV ballot paper has two columns of boxes alongside candidates’ listed names: one cleverly labelled ‘Column A – 1st choice’; the other, yes, ‘Column B – 2nd choice’. Voters are instructed that:

You have 2 choices for Mayor.

Mark [X] your first choice in Column A.

Mark [X] a different second choice in Column B.

You must make a first choice or your vote won’t be counted.

Each vote must be for a different candidate.

 

I readily defer to Lewis Baston’s professional electoral expertise, but I do question his view that this rubric is “certainly among the more confusing that has been deployed in a British election”.  Seriously less clear than, for instance, that in the previous five London Mayoral elections or two previous PCC elections? This year’s 20 Mayoral candidates obviously lengthened the ballot paper and made choice-making potentially trickier, but don’t blame the wording.

Something, however, certainly was responsible for, in the FIRST count alone, 87,214 ballot papers of the 42% of London electors sufficiently motivated either to physically turn out or return a postal ballot being NOT counted, for the single reason of “voting for too many candidates” in Column A – topping EASILY the totals of 16 of the 20 candidates.

A further nearly 27,000 ballots were rejected for other reasons – being left blank, voters revealing their identities, etc. – giving a first-count rejection total of over 114,000. That’s 4.3%, over double the previous (2004) record, and one in every 23 voters who had chosen to participate.

As it happens, this was fractionally under the national total of rejected/invalid votes for all reasons at the 2019 General Election – itself nearly 60% up on 2017, but still, by comparison, totalling ‘only’ 0.37%.  It’s that 87,214, then, I found genuinely shocking – and that prompted this blog.

To emphasise, with apologies for repetition: first, these rejections have nothing to do with the verification of voters’ personal identifiers. This happens before ballots get anywhere near the count, resulting in generally some 4% being excluded, mostly for lack or indecipherability of signature and/or date of birth.

The 87,214, then, are solely verified ballots rejected from the FIRST count of the SV system that gives electors two possible votes and may comprise two separate, necessarily independent, counts.  A further 384,000 ballot papers were excluded from that second count, mainly for Column B being left ‘unmarked’.

At which point it’s worth emphasising that, for Londoners, SV is neither new nor new-fangled. They’ve been using it since 2000, while over 60% of the world’s democracies seem somehow to cope with generally somewhat trickier systems of real proportional representation. At first sight, these rejection figures suggest many Londoners are not only what my mother would have called ‘slow on the uptake’, but getting slower. Or are there other explanations?

In 2012, Boris Johnson’s second win, nearly 22,000 ballots were rejected for interpreting ‘first preference’ in the plural – still a lot, but under 1%.  In 2016, Sadiq Khan’s first win, it was over 32,000, and up to 1.2%, with total rejections close to 50,000 or 1.9%.  A lot, and worrying – you might think – but still in a different league from this year’s single-cause 87,214.

The even more worrying thing, though, is that people – official people, like the Electoral Commission and London Assembly Elections Review Committee/Panel -have been worrying about and inquiring into this and other problematic features of these elections pretty well from the start.

As with everything London you have to start with its sheer size, in this case its electorate’s size. One consequence is the high proportion of postal voters – which means additional rejection opportunities (signature, date of birth, etc.). 

Much bigger, though, is the counting itself, which for London mayoral elections has from the outset been electronic: e-counting, before England and Scotland were even officially piloting it.  I, almost needless to say, have nil understanding of how the vital, techie bits of this work, but that doesn’t prevent ignorant suspicion – despite, or indeed reinforced by, seeing it in operation.  

I don’t like any of it: the regularly changing IT companies used; the emptying of the familiar, battered ballot boxes into large, impersonal scanners that jam when ballot papers aren’t torn cleanly from their counterfoils; the whole concept of auto-adjudication, and the  automatised rejection of ballot papers because the computer can’t figure out their ‘indeterminate’ markings; not seeing the rows of batched ballot papers piling, or not piling, up against the candidates’ named signs.

Above all, though, it’s that any rejection decision at the end of this untransparent process is made first by the ‘machine’ before being adjudicated and possibly overruled by the local Returning Officer (RO). Human being finally gets to challenge advanced technology!

My sense is that we’ve seen two potentially conflicting trends over the past couple of decades. Machines are being programmed to reject anything that doesn’t have the specified number of specified markings in the specified boxes.  ROs, meanwhile, are being instructed NOT necessarily to reject ballots if, for example, the vote is “not marked in the proper place, marked other than by a cross, marked by more than one mark, if an intention to give a … vote for not more than one candidate clearly appears on the ballot paper” (my emphasis).

That last quote is from the Electoral Commission’s Doubtful Ballot Papers booklet for Police and Crime Commissioner and Mayoral elections – which also provides illustrations of acceptable and unacceptable votes. The apparent emphatic message:  look at the whole ballot paper, at all the voter’s markings, and, if the voter’s intention can be unambiguously discerned, it counts.

Understandably, the numbers of ballot papers scrutinised in this way – nowadays in a “Covid-secure manner”, of course, and this year at just three London centres – are never published; possibly not even counted. But, if 87,214 were rejected in that first count alone, one can only imagine and guess, and it’s a mind-boggling number – and that’s without my having even yet mentioned the parallel elections for constituency and London-wide London Assembly Members.      

Under that kind of pressure, with the media pestering you throughout the Saturday for the Mayoral result, which by that time clearly wasn’t going to go down to the proverbial wire, the temptation not to turn every scrutiny into an argument with “the machine” must, I imagine, be powerful indeed.

Anyway, mulling all this over, I was reminded of when I covered the 2015 General Election campaign for the international academic current affairs website, The Conversation. On Election Eve I described how we in the UK did vote-counting and adjudication, “the aim nowadays being to divine the voter’s intention wherever possible, rejecting only where it is completely unclear”.

I illustrated with the reported case from the recent European Parliament elections of a Western Isles ballot paper marked “wank, wank, good guy, wank” being accepted as an intended vote for the (SNP) “good guy” – little knowing that that very day a “detailed representation of a penis instead of a cross” would be similarly deemed valid.

Like the favoured MP himself, that particular case struck me as possibly ‘over-divining’ the voter’s intention, but it prompted me to look at some of the interpretations ROs would have been making this month in London. The Electoral Commission doesn’t have published views on the positive or negative messages of sketched genitalia, but it does provide over 50 examples of allowable and reject-worthy SV ballot papers, including my selected three from each group.

Ballots1

Obviously, none of the allowed ballots conform to the voter instructions quoted at the start.  So, would the computer have rejected them?  If so, would they have found their way to the RO – and, following scrutiny, all three been allowed back into the first count and Examples 8 and 14 into the second?  Or were one or all part of the 87,214?

Ballots2

The ’Rejects’ are slightly trickier, because it requires acknowledgement of these Mayoral and PCC elections potentially comprising two completely separate counts. Yet examples 28 and 31 do precisely what the ballot paper instructs for inclusion in the first count, while 30 does precisely what was deemed allowable in Example 14. Without going into further detail, and taking account of the latitude granted in the ‘Allowed’ examples, a case could easily be argued for all three being eligible for inclusion in the second count.

As will be evident, much of the above is conjecture.  I do, though, seriously feel we need to know more about that 87,214 and whether it comprised significant numbers of cases where the voter’s intention could have been divined.

 

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.