Democracy Volunteers has today conducted observations across the Peterborough parliamentary constituency. Given the high level of interest in the by-election, Democracy Volunteers deployed a team of four experienced observers across the constituency.
The observers, working in teams of two, visited 23 polling stations, staying between 30 and 45 minutes in each. In each observation, our teams assessed the process for administering the ballot and how the staff interacted with the public. Once they had completed their observations they filled out an online survey providing a stream of live data.
Overall, the observer team was extremely impressed with the organisation and administration of polling stations throughout the day by polling staff, particularly given this is the third election to be held in a short-time frame in Peterborough. Polling station staff seemed well prepared to deliver the election, from greeting voters and administering ballot papers to ensuring the secrecy of the ballot. Staff were very welcoming to the observer team and regularly recorded their attendance at their stations.
An ongoing concern of Democracy Volunteers is the observed level of so-called ‘family voting’, whereby individuals lose their right to cast their vote in secret. In today’s election, ‘family voting’ was observed in 50% of all polling stations. Despite the high prevalence of family voting, the extent to which this was challenged by polling station staff was highly commendable, regular and sometimes even persistent. It was clear that staff had received training about the negative impact of family voting and how to intervene when necessary. The returning officer had also clearly coordinated with the local police to ensure that some polling stations were also permanently or regularly attended to encourage the correct voting procedures which were often challenged by voters, who were often unaware that this is an ‘unacceptable practice’ (OSCE/ODIHR).
However, Democracy Volunteers has also identified an emerging concern in the frequency in which individuals were observed to be photographing their completed ballot papers, which in each case went either unnoticed or unchallenged by staff. Whilst the observer team did not see this in every station it was clear that photographing a ballot, presumably for transmission, was a normalised activity, even though polling stations clearly displayed signs stating that photography is forbidden in polling stations. This photography did not take the form of so-called ‘selfies’ but of simply a ballot being photographed by the voter.
Commenting Director of Democracy Volunteers, Dr John Ault, said;
‘Today saw an excellently run polling day by staff and we want to congratulate them for this. However, we would like to draw attention to the concerning practice of voters taking photos of their ballot for dissemination, which is clearly a breach of the secret ballot.
‘One can only speculate as to why some voters feel the need to do this, although this can, in some cases, be by inducement.’
The Representation of the People’s Act states it is an offence to “directly or indirectly induce a voter to display his ballot paper after he has marked it so as to make known to any person the name of the candidate for whom he has or has not voted”.