Ballot box security: adding your own seals

Although it’s normal for candidates to leave the security of ballot boxes firmly in the hands of elections staff, there is in fact a long-standing legal right dating back to the 1872 Ballot Act for candidates to put their own seals on ballot boxes.

It is a right that is only rarely used, such as in the 1999 European elections in Haringey. The Conservatives decided to put their own seals on ballot boxes, motivated in part by the usual European rules requiring a 3 day delay between polling day (Thursday) and the count (Sunday). On that occasion the seals caused more concerns than they banished as the seals were damaged during the moving of boxes back and forth, resulting in some more excitable concerns that there might have been tampering.

The right to seal ballot boxes is back in the news with the BBC reporting:

The British National Party is so concerned about fraud at the general election that it intends to place its own seals on ballot boxes.

The party fears its opponents will seek to sabotage its aim of winning a seat in Parliament for the first time.

Regardless of any actual fear, by making this move the BNP both scored some media coverage and helped present itself as a party at odds with the rest of the world.

Somewhat curious was the Labour Party’s response to the story. At first glance this quote seems unremarkable:

A Labour spokesman said: “We are confident that when the general election comes the British people will clearly reject the disgusting politics of the BNP.

“That will be because their politics are vile and divisive not because of any bizarre paranoia about ballot boxes.”

However, this dismissal of concerns over ballot box tampering as “bizarre paranoia” came only a few days after Labour’s Chief Whip expressed concern that ballot boxes might be tampered with in his own constituency. As in the case of the BNP though, Nick Brown did not present any evidence to back up his comments.

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  • Andrew Suffield 21st Jan '10 - 11:29pm

    It’s not that unreasonable. Does anybody remember a general election where there wasn’t some sort of electoral fraud going on somewhere? Granted it’s usually pretty low level stuff, but it does happen, and I can’t see anything wrong with some extra effort to fight it. We’d have marginally better elections if less people were careless about this sort of thing.

  • Seals (of whatever sort) should be removed from the boxes in view of the agents etc and that hasn’t always happened IME.

  • In Teignbridge we have plastic ballot boxes with plastic seals, I’m not sure they can take sealing wax.

  • Chris Keating 22nd Jan '10 - 10:05am

    I’m not sure that “seal” necessary means “wax seal”. I’m not entirely sure what the BNP are planning to use…

  • I would imagine a short piece of plastic cable tie or similar.

    I was disturebed who eassy it was to get press coverage for this story.

  • Simon Titley 22nd Jan '10 - 11:52am

    Tampering with ballot boxes can happen and has.

    In the Chester-le-Street by-election of 1973, ballot boxes were tampered with to enable Labour to hold the seat. The Liberals came second in what was a particularly bad-tempered campaign:,_1973

  • Thats where I got the idea of cable ties from the BNP put them on in the Euro Elections. I am trying to remember if they did at the by-election in Norwich North as well. They may have not done as their Agent had a heart attack so wasn’t at the count.

  • Over the last 20 years, the integrity of our ballot process has clearly been compromised, most particularly by the deliberate (and gerrymandered) spread of postal votes – no amount of claimed ‘personal validation’ can ever reveal the circumstances under which a remote vote was cast, therefore it is an unacceptable risk.

    In cultures of ‘paternal rule’, upwards of 100 family members may have their votes dictated (and supervised) by a controlling head of household. This means that large units of ‘family votes’ become a tradeable commodity, leading to corruption of candidates by obligation. Party labels become irrelevant, as support is bought and sold, regardless of party or policies – it’s a straight-forward trade arrangement.

    If you don’t believe it happens, take a look at Bradford. Voting is often based on tribe/caste/family rather than anything to do with policies or candidate competence. In a close election, the impact on the national result may become significant.

    This discussion about additional ‘BNP’ seals on ballot boxes will, hopefully, start a process of review, in which all those supporting a genuine election should now campaign for a ban on postal votes, immediate public counting of all votes and continuous supervision of the bollot-paper handling and counting process by nominated representatives of all parties.

    Some valid postal votes may be sacrificed, which would be unfortunate for the very few who genuinely cannot visit a Polling Station. The only solution would be for such votes to be cast, in advance, under the supervision of a visiting Returning Officer – expensive perhaps, but the only way to guarantee the process. A value judgement needs to be made on this.

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Jan '10 - 1:05pm

    Funny thing is, postal votes actually have better controls against fraud than polling stations do. (This issue has been raised several times; polling stations are inexcusably careless for no good reason)

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