It's not who you vote for, it's how you vote

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The Independent Online
I am going to be voting for the first time at the next election and I wonder if you have any advice for me on how I should vote.

Yes. Very slowly. After all, this is almost certainly the last time you are going to be voting this century, so you might as well get some fun out of it. You're not going to get anything else out of it, after all.

But surely you just go in and vote and come out again, don't you?

Oh no. That would be a complete waste of a vote. First of all, even before you get in the polling station you will be approached by representatives of the three main parties sporting their various colours and wanting to know your number.

My number?

Yes. We all have numbers on the electoral roll, and when you bring along your election reminder to the polling station they will want to know what the number is, so that they can cross you off their list of people whom they might try to hustle along to the polling station later in the evening.

So I give these people my number?

Certainly not. It is one of the very few chances you will ever get to annoy a member of a political party face to face, so I would take advantage of it and annoy three at the same time by keeping your number to yourself.

Right. Then I go in and vote?

No. You then go in and find yourself facing the polling station officer who will ask you for your number.

Do I refuse to give this again?

Of course. You say that it is your democratic right to withhold your number.

That will stump him!

No, I am afraid it won't. He will merely ask for your name and address then, and check it out on the roll. When he finds it he will tick it off and give you a ballot paper.

That seems straightforward.

It doesn't have to be. For instance, you can give someone else's name and address, especially if you happen to know that that person has already voted.

What is the point of that?

Well, when the polling station officer says, "I'm afraid you have already voted," you can fly into a terrific rage and say that they have allowed an impostor to steal your vote and that the whole election is null and void.

That sounds like fun, but you're going to be found out sooner or later, aren't you?

Yes, I am afraid so, and for that reason it is not worth doing. What you must now do is take your ballot paper, on which are written the names of all the candidates in alphabetical order ...

Oh no. What you do now is examine your voting form very closely and see to your surprise that it is numbered. Every voting form has a different number.

Is that so very bad?

Oh yes. After all, this is meant to be a secret ballot. But if your voting form is numbered, they can always trace it back to you and find out how you voted. Therefore it is not a secret ballot.

Oh dear. What should I do now?

You go back to the polling station officer and say in a loud voice: "This is meant to be a secret ballot! Give me a ballot paper that is truly secret and authentically untraceable!"

And will he do so?

No. He will say: "Have no fear, sir or madam. This ballot is secret all right. The only reason we number the papers is so that in a rare emergency we can trace a form - if someone writes a libel on a voting form, for instance, or attaches a small limpet mine to it."

And do I go along with that?

No. You shake the ballot paper at them and say, "I am not sure under these circumstances whether I want to vote or not. I will take this ballot paper away with me and bring it back later when I have made up my mind."

What is the point of doing that?

Simply this. Polling station officers have no instructions about what to do if a person comes in and gets a ballot paper to which they are entitled and then takes it away without using it. They are not sure if it is government property or yours. They are not sure if you are violating some sacred principle by actually removing a ballot paper from voting premises.They have no idea if you can take your paper away and then come back with it later. They will be very worried indeed.

Nice one! And do I come back later and vote?

No.

Why not?

Because if we all do the same and nobody votes, it will make for very interesting viewing on Election Night Special.

This has been a party political broadcast on behalf of common sense.

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