Friday, May 05, 2006

Those bloody boxes

You wont know a thing about boxes

They are some kind of a throwback to an earlier age

They probably nearly pre-date elections and they are a menace

If it is up to me they will be abolished before the next elections next year

I am making my stand!

In Liverpool it is the norm for any candidates with a chance of winning to commandeer empty photocopying paper boxes from around the committee rooms (or campaign centres if you are a newer member) and decorate them with Labour logos and a picture or two of the local candidate.

They then put them outside polling stations, with a slot in the top, viz a viz the ballot box, in the hope that voters will put their polling cards in the appropriate box as they leave the station.

Doesn't that seem sweet and quaint.

When I was told that as a candidate I had to waste time making these things up so that we were not letting the side down on polling day I was horrified. I said I was not spending valuable campaign time on such a silly project but was eventually strong-armed to follow the norm.

So we made them up and incidentally nearly came to blows about who could have "that" empty box and what was a fair share of boxes and whose election was more important....a distraction in itself

We all got up unnecessarily early to put them out on the steps of the polling stations for 7am (in Liverpool this year as part of a project we were open from 7am until 10pm, which is ridiculous but another topic altogether).

During the day as we popped back to the 9 polling stations in the ward I was fighting, we had to look into the box and collect the cards. As a rule the boxes were empty, I was told to expect that the opposition would steal the polling cards from our box (and indeed we may have stolen theirs I am informed) or perhaps they decided to put a few of theirs in ours..

What a farce

I lacklustrely (is that a real word?) went round a couple of times during the day but given that it took an hour a time I didnt think it was an hour well spent, even in a tightly built up area.

I got nothing much from the boxes and by the end of the day, 2 had been knicked.

I sense that the Liverpool "Boxes" were designed as a way of taking numbers to aid the Reading system, but doing this without committing activists.

Unfortunately it does not work (and in any case we don't run the Reading system any more in the city).

Voters have been known to leave a polling station without voting because their candidate did not have a box and so they were not sure how to progress. Apparently on the odd occasion real ballot papers have been found in candidates' boxes too.

If I had lost by one vote and had subsequently found a couple of ballot papers in my "box" I would have been furious.

The other big problem is that in our city, the LibDems now recreate voting cards, in an identical size and weight, which explains that in order to vote you have to put your card in their "orange box."

I met at least three voters yesterday who had somehow taken this to mean that round here you had to vote LibDem, there was no choice, this was democracy. "We dont like Councillor X but we have to vote for him anyway because we have to put our cards in his box".

I know you have lost the plot long since, as indeed have I.

But the long and the short of it is that I will be visiting our elections office very soon to explain why boxes have already had their time


Anonymous said...

Hi Louise

I thought that parties were not allowed to have anything with the party name on it at the polling station, or outside.
I thought the only thing allowed was rosettes with the party colour but no name.



Anonymous said...

I read the Labour Party's advice on polling day last week and was surprised to see a mention of boxes because I had never seen them being used becfore and I didn't really understand what they were; now I know!

Anyway the advice the Party give nationally is to avoid them because returning officers don't like them, so it word seem sensible to have a word.

I quite often come accross these "almost Reading" systems being used by some local parties which revolve around ritually doing things with no understanding of why you would actually want to do certain things on polling day.

LouiseB31 said...


Our Elections Officer doesn't like them either. When we had the briefing from him at the beginning of the election, most of the questions from the candidates were about the boxes.

He said they were not covered by election law but he made up some guidelines for us to follow.

So not just a farce for us, but a farce for him too, having to make special guidelines.

I expect I will be pushing at an open door if I go to see him.

And I totally agree about people doing things they do not understand, campaign wise. This is mainly where they fit into a series of tasks, but where the logic has been forgotten and some of the rest of the link is missing. I recall a by-election in Huddersfield in recent years where we took numbers all day which were not collected, not used and then thrown away.

More campaign training needed, perhaps I should be putting my name forward to deliver some.

Tim said...

All this talk about yellow and red boxes could make me almost nostalgic ....

I can remember debates in the 1980s (when, yes, okay, I was a Liberal) about different mechanisms to get people to vote and identify with you. I was involved in one byelection where we asked people to bring a survey form with them when they went to vote - returning officer got very excited about that one! We originally wanted to use an 'orange box' for them to put the survey in, but were threatened with dire legal consequences!

I think we got that idea from Liverpool, but I recall them being used in one or two areas. It sounds as if something has become institutionalised in Liverpool which originally started as a gimmick.

Mind you, as the returning officer in Calderdale has now decided to send out poll cards in March - and use ones which do not look like poll cards - we may have to think of doing something similar. I cannot believe the number of people we had saying they could not vote because they had not received a poll card this year!

Congratulations once again, Louise!

Suzanne - Manchester said...

Chris - thats inside polling stations not outside them!

I'm all for boxes - as long as they stop people from sitting on polling stations taking numbers all day and ensure they are knocking on the doors of Labour promises instead ;0)