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NOTICE OF POLL.
Besides the notice of the polling-day given before the nomination, the returning officer, in the case of a contested election, as soon as practicable after adjourning the election, gives public notice of the polling day, the candidates and the persons who subscribe the nomination papers. In county elections notice is telegraphed to and published at all postal telegraph stations in the county (R. 9). If a candidate nominated dies after the adjournment, but before the poll commences, the returning officer countermands notice of the poll, and the election proceedings commence afresh, as if the writ had been received on the day on which proof was given to him of the death; but no fresh nomination of candidates already nominated is necessary (s. 1). No provision is made for the case of a candidate. dying before the adjournment. Such a candidate can hardly be regarded as "withdrawing." Even if he could, his proposer is entitled to give notice of withdrawal only when the candidate is nominated in his absence from the Kingdom. And as the withdrawal must be during the time appointed for the election, but not afterwards, this provision cannot meet the case of a candidate dying in the interval of one hour between the time appointed for the election and the adjournment.
Time of Poll.-The polling day is in the case of an election for a county or district of boroughs not less than two nor more than six clear days, and in elections for a borough not more than three clear days, after the nomination day (R. 14). Here it may be couvenient to mention that in reckoning the time for the purposes of this Act, Sunday, Christmas, Good Friday, and public fasts or thanksgiving days, are excluded (R. 56), and also that the regulations of 2 & 3 Will. IV. c. 65, as to fixing and announcing the day of election, the interval between the receipt of the writ and the day of election, the period of adjournment for taking the poll in the case of Orkney and Shetland, and the Northern District of Burghs, and for two days' poll in Orkney and Shetland, remain in force. But this is not to exclude those constituencies from the benefits and obligations of the Act (R. 61).
Preparation for the Poll.-At each polling place the returning officer provides a sufficient number of polling stations (R. 15-17); which he provides with the materials required for polling, including instruments for stamping the official mark, which he is to keep secret (R. 20). He may use free of charge a room in a school which receives a parliamentary grant, or a room the expense of which is payable out of the local rates (s. 6). He gives public notice of the situation of polling stations, of the description of voters entitled to vote there, and the mode of voting, and no elector can vote except at the station allotted to him (R. 18, 19).
Presiding Officers and Agents.-Each polling station is under the care of a presiding officer (which office may be filled by the returning officer himself, R. 47), who keeps order at the station, regulates the number of electors to be admitted at a time, and generally is charged with the conduct of the proceedings (R. 21). He may, if the proceedings are interrupted by riot or violence, adjourn the poll (s. 10). He may order the removal or arrest of any person who misconducts himself in the polling station, or fails to obey his lawful orders; but this power is not to be exercised so as to prevent a person entitled to vote from voting (s. 9). He may do by his clerks any act he is required or authorized to do at a polling station except ordering exclusion, arrest, or ejection (R. 50). To ensure secrecy, the presiding officer is to exclude all persons other than the clerks, agents of candidates, the candidates themselves, the constables on duty, and the electors engaged in voting (R. 21, 51). The Act provides that in Scotland the candidates may respectively appoint agents to attend at the polling stations, but it does not require notice to be given of their appointment. This is obviously an oversight. In England written notice of the appointment of such agents must be given before the poll (6 & 7 Vict. cap. 18, s. 85). In Scotland the name and address of agents appointed to attend the counting of the votes must be transmitted one clear day before the poll, and written notice is required of the appointment of an agent to attend the poll or counting in place of one who dies or becomes incapable during the time of the election, and of the appointment of agents in municipal elections (R. 59, 57, 52, 53). Just before the commencement of the poll the presiding officer shows the ballot box empty to any persons present, then locks and seals it so as to prevent it being opened without breaking the seal (R. 23).
Mode of Voting.-The mode of voting is as follows. Before delivering a ballot paper (which contains a list of the candidates arranged alphabetically in the order of their surnames, R. 22) to the voter, the presiding officer marks it on both sides with the official mark; the voter's number, name, and description on the register are called out, his number on the register is marked on the counterfoil of the ballot paper, which counterfoil has a number corresponding to the number on the back of the ballot paper, so that the vote may be identified in case of a scrutiny, and a mark is placed on the register against the number of the elector so as to show that he has received a ballot paper, but without showing the particular ballot paper he has received. The ballot paper is then detached from the counterfoil and given to the elector, who retires to one of the compartments with which the polling station is provided1 (one at least
1 By 5 & 6 Will. IV. cap. 78, s. 4, a candidate may require the Sheriff to provide booths or compartments for each 100 voters, in which case the candidate pays the expenses incident on such arrangement. This section of the Act is not repealed by
the Ballot Act.
for every 150 persons entitled to vote there, R. 16); and having secretly marked his vote by making a cross on the right hand side of the paper opposite the name of each candidate for whom he votes, folds up the ballot paper so as to conceal his vote, but so as to show the official mark on the back, shows the official mark on the back to the presiding officer, and puts his paper in the ballot box (s. 2. R. 24, 25, Form of Directions for the Guidance of the Voter, Schedule II.).
Secrecy.-A voter may, if he chooses, show how he votes by displaying inside the polling station his ballot paper marked. For although the Act directs the voter to mark his paper in secret and to fold it up so as to conceal his vote, it imposes no penalty on him if he fails to do so, or if, after having done so, he chooses to display his vote; nor does it impose any sanction of nullity on a vote so displayed. Nor does the Act authorize the presiding officer to reject such a vote, or even a vote which has writing on it by which the voter may be identified, or which is otherwise rendered invalid. It is the duty of the presiding officer to maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of the voting, but the Act has given him no means of maintaining secrecy against the will of the voter, or of preventing the voter doing that which it is not an offence to do. The 9th section authorizes the removal or arrest of any person who misconducts himself;-a provision which would justify the presiding officer in ordering the removal of a person endeavouring to discover how an elector was voting, or doing any other act which the Statute makes an offence, but which would not justify the removal of a voter displaying his vote; for even although this could be regarded as "misconduct," yet it is to be remembered that the power in question is not to be exercised so as to prevent a qualified person from voting.
The provisions for insuring the observance of secrecy in the case of officers' clerks and agents are of a more stringent and efficacious character. Every returning officer and every officer's clerk or agent authorised to attend at a polling station or at the counting of the votes, must, before the poll opens, make a declaration that he will not do anything forbidden by the fourth section (R. 54, Form in Schedule II.). The things forbidden are―
(a) Communicating before the poll is closed any information as to the name or number on the register of any elector who has or has not voted at the station or as to the official mark; (b) Interfering or attempting to interfere with a voter when marking his vote, or otherwise attempting to obtain in the polling station information as to the candidate for whom any voter in such station is about to vote or has voted;
(c) Communicating at any time any information obtained in a polling station as to the candidate for whom a voter there is voting or has voted, or as to the number on the back of his ballot paper;
(d) Directly or indirectly inducing any voter to display his ballot paper after he has marked it, so as to make known for whom he has voted;
(e) At the counting of the votes attempting to ascertain the number on the back of a ballot paper;
(f) Communicating any information obtained at such counting as to the candidate for whom any vote is given in any particular ballot paper.
Provisions b. c. and d. apply not to officials only but to all
The fourth section also enacts that every officer, clerk, and agent at a polling station or at counting the votes, shall maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of the votes.
Constables in attendance at a polling station do not require to take a declaration of secrecy. Nor do candidates, for although it may be argued that they can have the same privileges as agents only under the same qualifications, yet there is no express provision requiring a declaration from them, and such a requirement is not to be obtained by inference.
We have stated the ordinary routine of voting. There are some exceptional cases.
(1) Spoilt ballot papers. A voter who has inadvertently dealt with his ballot paper so that it cannot be conveniently used, may obtain another on giving up the spoilt ballot paper, which is inmediately cancelled, but must be preserved and returned to the returning officer (R. 28).
(2) Marked votes.-If the voter is incapacitated by blindness or other physical cause from voting in the way prescribed by the Act, or if he makes a declaration of inability to read, attested by the presiding officer that he is unable to read; or if when the poll is on a Saturday he declares that he is a Jew and objects to vote as above, the presiding officer causes the vote to be marked on the ballot paper as the voter directs. The name and number on the register of every such voter, and the reason why the vote is so marked, are entered on a "list of votes marked by the presiding officer" (R. 26).
(3) Tendered votes. If a person representing himself to be a particular elector applies for a ballot paper after another person has voted as such elector, he is, on answering the questions and taking the oath applicable to such a case, entitled to vote; but his ballot paper, instead of being put into the ballot box, is given to the presiding officer, who sets it aside in a separate packet; and his name and number on the register are entered on the "tendered votes list." "Tendered ballot papers" are not counted by the returning officer (R. 27).
PROCEEDINGS AT CLOSE OF THE POLL.
No alteration is made on the hour of closing. But the alteration in the mode of voting suggests questions of some nicety. Must a
voter actually have placed his ballot paper in the box by four o'clock; or is he entitled to vote if he has received a ballot paper and does not unduly delay to mark it; or is he entitled to vote if he has applied for a ballot paper; or is he entitled to vote if he has been duly admitted to the polling station?
High authority has been given in support of each of the views, that it is the reception of a ballot paper and that it is the admission into the polling station which gives the right to vote. It is not unimportant to observe that s. 15 enacts that "any application for a ballot paper under this Act, or expressions relative thereto, shall be equivalent to 'voting' in the previous Elections Acts" and any expressions relative thereto.
As soon as practicable, after the close of the poll, the presiding officer makes up into separate sealed packets (1) the ballot box unopened, (2) the unused and spoilt ballot papers, (3) the tendered ballot papers, (4) the marked copy of the register and the counterfoils, (5) the tendered votes list, the list of marked votes, a statement of the number of marked votes under their three heads, and the declarations of inability to read. These packets he delivers to the returning officer, with a statement accounting for the number of ballot papers entrusted to him (R. 29, 30). Care must be taken to keep all these classes of papers separate, as the third and fourth classes are not allowed to be opened by the returning officer (R. 37). If he were allowed to open them, the manner in which an elector voted might be discovered, which it is the purpose of the Act to prevent as far as possible. It is worthy of remark that the presiding officer is to "deliver" the ballot box and packets; while under the previous Acts the poll Sheriff was to "transmit or deliver" the poll books. It would appear that the presiding officer must personally deliver the ballot boxes and papers; a provision necessary indeed, considering the risk of tampering with them and the difficulty of detecting such frauds. Where the Sheriff is returning officer for more than one county, as defined for the purposes of parliamentary elections, he may appoint a deputy for all or any of the purposes of the election in such county, including of course the reception of the ballot boxes (s. 8). But this provision will not entitle a Sheriff to appoint a deputy to receive the ballot boxes in part of a county.
COUNTING THE VOTES.
The returning officer makes arrangements for counting the votes in presence of the agents of the candidates as soon as practicable after the close of the poll, and gives notice to the agents of the time and place of counting (R. 32). The returning officer, his assistants and clerks, the candidates and their appointed agents, and no other person, except with the sanction of the returning officer, may be present (R. 33). The returning officer, in presence of the agents, opens the ballot boxes, counts and records the number