Just how anonymous is your vote?

  WhiteTruckMan 19:59 04 Jun 2009

I went to vote this evening and one of the things that I noticed was that both ballot papers - 1 council, 1 european- had serial numbers on them. I thought that this might be an anti-counterfeit measure until I noticed that the numbers were being written down against my name, so I decided to ask about it. I was informed that it was to prevent identity fraudsters from using my vote, and that the lists would be locked securely away unless a court ordered them examined, along with the ballots.

When I asked how long they were stored for, and how they were disposed of, I was met with blank faces, and was given the phone number of the elections office. They told me they were stored for 12 months then destroyed locally, apart from the westminster elections where they are all sent to central government.

I'm slightly concerned about all this because we are supposed to be able to vote in complete secrecy. Images of an 18th century landowner/MP watching his tenants stand up and declare their votes publicly spring to mind. Which is one of the reasons we have a secret ballot in the first place.

Two points

1-The information is supposed to be kept confidential. Anyone need any reminders of the governments track record in leaking and losing confidential information?

2-The capability obviously already exists to determine the votes of everyone who turns out at an election. All that is missing is the desire. Given the increasing intrusiveness into our lives by the state, how long will it be before we are back to square one in this? (Even 20 years ago, who would have believed the amounts of camera surveillance we are already under?)


  laurie53 20:15 04 Jun 2009

Fairly well documented, and regularly gets a query like yours.

The dangers of someone printing up several thousands of ballot papers and feeding them into the system, which would not be difficult, is considered greater than, given the built in safeguards, the remote possibility that an unauthorised person might be able to ascertain how you voted.

The serial number used to be in an embossed format which made it difficult to see without actually handling the paper, but I noticed a few years ago that this had changed.

  WhiteTruckMan 20:54 04 Jun 2009

"regularly gets a query like yours"

Maybe, but my concerns are nonetheless genuine for all that.


  Forum Editor 23:57 04 Jun 2009

of ensuring that ballot papers can't be matched to individuals, one of which is a ballot paper that is perforated down the middle. The candidates names are listed on one half, and the tick boxes are on the other half. You tick the box that is opposite your choice of candidate, and tear the paper down the perforation, putting the half with the tick in the ballot box.

The clever part is that the candidates are listed in a random order on each paper, so nobody can tell from looking at the position of your tick which candidate you voted for, but a computer can. The half with your tick on it has a cryptographic cypher printed on it, which tells the computer which order the candidates were listed in on that particular paper. The key can only be read by using a special unlock key, and that is held by the electoral officials, and a representative from each political party. It sounds complex, but it's actually an elegant and effective way of ensuring a high degree of security and secrecy. No lists are retained, because they aren't necessary.

That, and other methods of ensuring ballot security are being looked into, but in the meantime we have to make do with the system we have. It concerns many people, but not me - if someone wants to take the trouble to find out how I voted they're welcome - it tells them nothing that would be of real value, and it threatens nothing as far as my personal life is concerned.

What I do think, however, is that there should be some form of education of the public, to make sure everyone understands that the current system is not totally secret. This would at least ensure that people went into the polling station with their eyes open.

  dagnammit 00:01 05 Jun 2009

I openly admit to who I vote for... why the need for secrecy nowadays? It's not like the ones you didn't for are gonna send a mob round, are they?

  dagnammit 00:02 05 Jun 2009

didn't *vote* for

  jakimo 15:33 05 Jun 2009

I assume its a way of checking that no fraud has taken place, making sure that one person only gets one vote

click here

  sunnystaines 16:37 05 Jun 2009

I asked this some time back and the officials said so random back checks could done to check the right people voted and not someone using else using a false ID to vote.

  sunnystaines 16:40 05 Jun 2009

also one year we had not voted and by late afternoon were getting calls from parties asking if we were going to vote. both labour and conservatives had access as to who had voted and who had not. In the end one party sent a car round so we could vote.

  BT 17:40 05 Jun 2009

I noticed this years ago, they record electoral list number against the number of the voting form, so I suppose they could cross check them.

The tellers can get access to the list of who has or hasn't voted.

What I want to know is why when I ticked the box on the Electoral Register form last year to have postal votes they never turned up, or is it that you actually have to ask every time, in which case ticking the box is a waste of time.

  Kevscar1 18:00 05 Jun 2009

My vote is totaly anonymous. Because I don't

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