An Election decided in the courts?
Friday, May 07, 2010
Mrs Paine woke me by telephone with news of frustrated people clamouring to vote as the polls were due to close. She was watching people being allowed in to vote even as the first results were being declared. Those votes are invalid but will be impossible to distinguish (unless the officials were at least smart enough to use a new ballot box) from valid ones.
It will therefore be open to losing candidates to challenge those results. It's a telling (forgive the pun) story in a few respects. We have conducted elections in this simple way with pieces of paper thrust into boxes for centuries without problems. The turnout may be high, but postal votes were made generally available, reducing the pressure of the "live" vote. None of my family actually went to polling stations this time. There is therefore no good reason for queues if polling stations were properly organised and adequately staffed.
Yet as is typical in Britain, what was once easy is now difficult. An education system in which not only is bad behaviour tolerated (or actively rewarded) but poor performance is never critiqued has resulted in a population that can't distinguish sloppiness from competence. The "self-esteem" of modern Britons is such that piss-poor performance simply doesn't shake it.
It's also interesting that voters would insist (aggressively according to Mrs P.) on being allowed to vote contrary to law. There is so much law in Britain now (and people are so used to being constantly in breach of it) that the emotional significance of Law itself has been diminished. Peelite "policing by consent" is only possible if most people self-enforce, which only happens if the Law itself is generally respected. The alternative, as we have seen, is policing by ever-increasing force. From Mrs P's description of the scenes, it would certainly have taken more force than was to hand to hold the would-be voters back. There was a time when they would have tutted at their misfortune and walked away.
Challenges to results, leading to re-runs of the relevant elections, would be morally justified if results were close but they might be legally justified regardless. Perfectly good results could be overturned on a technicality and the elections re-run because of this incompetence.
Results from affected constituencies are likely to be skewed by more than the direct impact of the votes that should not have been cast. I have always thought it ridiculous that elections are conducted on a working day in Britain (unlike everywhere else I have lived). The unemployed, pensioners and under worked government employees have all the time in the world to vote, but the private sector voters who will fund the government have to fit it in with earning a living. Postal ballots (not least because of the corruption that their introduction seems almost to have been designed to facilitate) will tend to favour Labour. The voters turned away at 10pm however, probably included more Conservatives. Those who work hard to pay the piper tend to be more critical of his playing, after all.
Happy though I always am for my fellow lawyers to make an honest living, I hope the result is clear enough that the courts don't have to decide who won. I can't predict what mischief minor parties might attempt, but the main parties will be embarrassed to resort to law, unless individual results are close. It would certainly be a disaster if we had the equivalent of embittered Democrats in America arguing that the election was stolen in the courts. The next government has dreadful duties to perform and will need all the popular support it can get.
I stand convicted, cringing and remorseful with regard to my use of that word. I should have said that you were being a little harsh. I'm all for simple laws, but not making an idol of them.
Posted by: Trooper Thompson | Friday, May 07, 2010 at 07:48 PM
I have written to the Zimbabwean Ministry Of Justice asking them to send observers for the next General Election, now due in twelve months time.
All these highly paid CEO's of local authorities (sorry town clerks) could not not even get this right, something that has been happily occuring for a hundred years, name, check list give paper, mark with X put in box. With the age of of computers that is now a very difficult thing to achieve.
Posted by: Guthrum | Friday, May 07, 2010 at 10:43 AM
You are right about policing and right about education.
The cock-up about insufficient ballot papers, possible corrupt postal voting, voters being excluded worries me a lot.
I have lived in countries where public officials don't do their jobs properly and just don't care that they don't.
An attitude of 'I'm an official and you're not' exists.
That is now spreading in the UK.
Police, electoral officials,council officials,troughing MPs are all symptoms of this.
I recently read Eamonn Butler's 'The Alternative Manifesto. In the book he credits someone else,(I've lent the book out so can't check it) with the idea of, not the nanny state, the bully state.
That's where we are.Incompetence supported by bullying.
Posted by: Kevyn Bodman | Friday, May 07, 2010 at 04:38 AM
Mrs P tells me they were still voting at one Manchester polling station after 11pm and that the situation was worse in Inner London. If the electors were scary enough, they got to vote. The door was no doubt closed on the meekly respectable elsewhere. Of course I understand the frustration of those who were there in time but held in long queues. Of course, I condemn the incompetence that caused it, but those who forced their way in may have invalidated the votes of those who voted on time.
Any election has to have an end time. If 10.10pm is ok, why not 11.10pm? The libertarian way is few clear, necessary laws, enforced with rigour. I am surprised to see you use the dreadful word "unfair", TT. I had thought better of you.
Posted by: Tom | Friday, May 07, 2010 at 02:12 AM
"It's also interesting that voters would insist (aggressively according to Mrs P.) on being allowed to vote contrary to law."
That's unfair. People believe the law should be just, that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter. If I'd been denied my chance to vote, I'd be bloody angry too. The fault lies with the idiots in charge, not the angry people turned away.
Posted by: Trooper Thompson | Friday, May 07, 2010 at 01:27 AM