So why didn’t this teller just say, “Yes, I’m a Conservative”?

Rather odd behaviour by a Conservative teller in South West Surrey today who turned out to be very reluctant to admit they were telling on behalf of the Conservative Party, as the following video shows:

As an aside, one thing this incident does show is how perverse some Returning Officers are in still, well into the twenty-first century, not liking tellers to wear rosettes in party colours and showing party logos. Not only is there no law against it, but the Electoral Commission’s guidance has for many years said, “Tellers may … Display a coloured rosette displaying the name of the candidate and/or a registered party … It may carry a registered party description/emblem”. Wearing such clear rosettes actually performs a service to voters – because it helps make it clear that tellers are not official election staff. Far from discouraging the wearing of such rosettes, Returning Officers should be encouraging them to be worn.

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This entry was posted in Election law.


  • There were 2 tellers sitting down in the entrance to my polling station, which strictly speaking is illegal. 1 Labour, 1 Conservative. Both wearing rosettes. But because I’m a Lib Dem I refused to give them my voter number. So with a bit of luck they will both waste their time and money chasing my vote!

  • Paul McKeown 6th May '10 - 7:05pm

    ChrisD – I had exactly the same experience. Gave them my voter number, then a piece of my mind, too!

  • Excuse my ignorance, but what do Teller’s do?

    I was asked for my electoral number by a Labour Teller, and I was happy to give it but I was unsure of the reason. I wish I would have asked now!

  • Brilliant Blue Arrogance ( or is that blue-rinsed stupidity?).
    Just acted as a teller for the first time (as a LibDem complete with rosette) and found my fellow teller ( first hour) very sociable ,chatty and helpful and then (second hour) abrasive, obstructive and dogmatic . Both were Tories.
    The function is to collect voting numbers in an upfront , open and friendly manner with absolutely no confrontation or subterfuge.
    These numbers are then fed into a database of ‘definite’ & ‘probable’ voters so that any who have not voted for your party may be contacted by ‘phone or door knock later in the day. I guess that people forget or simply appreciate the human contact before making the cross.
    Collecting details of opposition voters is a waste of time and energy, and pissing people off is clearly off the menu.
    Hope this beginner’s guide ,from a beginner helps, Toby and others.
    Vive la Revolution!!!

  • Terry Gilbert 7th May '10 - 12:03am

    Of course if your database is full of probables who are really undecideds, it’s much less effective… you could be phoning or calling on people who will vote for the other side. In the current climate, it is probably only worth calling definites.

  • Thanks Mark

    I’m not sure any kind of database could decide if I was a definite or a probable?!?

    What is the criteria of the database?

  • The database for each party is built up over time through any contact that is had. Mostly done by canvassing and asking people which way they’ll vote in the weeks/months preceeding an election.

    On the day this is used to ‘knock up’ any voters that haven’t appeared to have voted according to the tellers records.

  • I’m confused. I was asked by a teller for my number at the entrance to the polling station but I had no idea it was a teller or that they were collecting the information for a specific party. The explanations above seem to suggest that from my polling number the party for whom the teller was volunteering can now find out who I am and which way I voted. Is this right? I thought that the point of a secret ballot was that it was secret. Or is it just so that they form a database of active voters and can target those accordingly in the future despite not knowing who they voted for?

    This explains it and now i’m not so worried, but next time i shall be keeping my number to myself, unless i’ve been canvassed in the run up and given my number away then.

  • Canvassing, collecting numbers & knocking up can be v effective. It’s called “getting your vote out”. According to a BBC report the Greens were highly active at doing this in Brighton and won a seat there. I was once told that an active campaign can improve a party’s share by 3-5% points, which is significant in a marginal constituency.

    In addition, it encourages face to face contacts with all the benefits that can ensue – encouragement, solidarity, information, new members and consolidates party activists – without whom the public politicians would be lost.

  • I had *exactly* this experience in Putney SW London today – again, the teller turned out (on the second round of question & sadly after I’d given my number) to be a Tory. Which suggests it’s part of their national electoral playbook. Would be good to get some media attention upon the practice – unbecoming for middle-aged ladies to dissemble in this way.

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