Voting The Old Way in the UK: On PaperThere's an old saying that a true patriot, in receipt of a valid parking ticket, rejoices that the system works... That's how I feel so far. I expected to have to fight uphill to be allowed to record part of the traditional paper ballot UK election/voting process in photos and video, but instead everyone has been helpful and friendly.
1: See the photos of the May 2007 Brighton and Hove City Council Elections; the material is all free to use for any reasonable purpose, and I hope that it'll be an education (as it has been for me) and a source of reference material: dull but worthy.
Why Brighton? Well, I'm based in London, but there were no elections here this time around, so I picked a nice place to take my family for two days...
2: The ground-breaking part is being allowed to record the process, eg inside the polling stations. I'm not allowed to interfere with nor record any individual's vote, nor otherwise undermine the security of the ballot, but I can show you what the stations and booths and ballot boxes and seals and so on are like.
3: The first step was to become an Accredited Observer of the Electoral Commission as a Register story alerted me to the possibility of; the Commission understood what I was trying to do and got me accredition within a few days.
4: As an Observer I can watch the whole process (and except in fairly limited circumstances cannot be prevented from doing so), but I cannot record it; for that I need the permision of the poll's Returning Officer, and again I expected a struggle and was wrong! Brighton and Hove's Returning Officer and Deputies imposed some minimal conditions but just basically said yes, and bent over backwards to help.
5: I recorded the interiors and exteriors and ballot boxes (etc) for about 7 polling stations yesterday; one further refused me permission to photograph out of caution, specifically in case the public would be upset by the photography. Fair enough: I'd certainly rather that election officials err on the side of safety.
6: As the polls closed I was able to record a couple of ballot boxes being sealed and taken to the secure area where they were held overnight. Then I was able to see almost all the other boxes being brought in from all over Brighton and Hove: I'm not sure that I'd go as far as the policeman's description of the scene as "mayhem", but it certainly was busy!
7: The boxes were watched overnight by CCTV, security guards, and the police; to be secure, and to be seen to be secure.
8: Up to this point, and later in the count, I witnessed what seemed to be a number of minor errors, inevitable when you have a complex high-speed operation staffed by human beings rather than robots. I wasn't especially scrutinising the details of the process at that level, but I was reasonably satisfied that there were no really serious problems, and that the overall process corrected the slip-ups.
9: I got to Hove Town Hall for about 08:30 and all the boxes were already separated into the two rooms used, and by ward. Shortly after 09:00 the ballot counts were verified (at least one ward took a long time to clear this hurdle though) and candidates and their agents were admitted to watch. The counting hall was becoming quite a carnival of rosettes and concentration. At about 10:00 by my reckoning most of the ward vote tallies were starting for real, and by 11:15 the first results (declarations) were coming in. When I left shortly after noon a significant fraction of the seats had been declared. I'd kind of hoped that the Returning Officer would have started proceedings with a huge gong like the start of the old Rank movies, but it was all relatively low-key and workaday.
10: The count is more public than the previous day's polling, with all the candidates and agents present, and the press watching from the balcony, but mine was the only camera allowed in the count room itself. I mainly had to be careful not to capture an image of any ballot paper indicating how a vote had been cast, and this indeed seemed to be the main worry for the Council's head of legal services. I was given free reign to go anywhere I wanted to, which is what transparency is all about in practice.
A minor but significant demonstration that the system works as it should, just like that parking ticket...
See all the photos and videos, free for any reasonable use.