Thursday, 5 May 2011

"Alternative" Uses for a Pencil 2

No pictures this time, but today I used a pencil to mark a ballot paper at my local polling station. Today is an election day in much of the United Kingdom, with national government elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and local authority elections in England. I voted in none of those; instead I voted in a referendum held concurrently, the first referendum held across England since 1975.

The referendum was to vote on whether or not to introduce a new voting system in Parliamentary elections. I won't go into the details of our electoral system but the choice was between retaining the current First Past the Post system and introducing an Alternative Vote system.

Readers may be slightly surprised to see that the voting process in Britain is still very simple. I mark the ballot with a pencil according to my preference with an X in the box. And that's it. No machines are used in the count; we still employ teams of people to count the votes at town halls across the land.

So there's your alternative use for a pencil: democracy. Not bad for a cheap HB stub on a bit of string....incidentally I voted for AV.


  1. I am surprised to hear that a HB pencil is used. Since normal pencils can be erased which makes it possible to modify the choice on the ballot paper only copying pencils were allowed in Germany (and have been replaced by ballpoint pens long since).

  2. I was quite surprised to see what looked like a normal pencil yesterday (from Shaw's, I think). I thought last time I voted it was a copy pencil, but we moved home and are now part of another borough, so that might be the explanation why....
    ...was also a bit miffed that I wasn't allowed to vote in the AV referendum, only in the local elections :(
    Did you have Shaw's pencils in your borough?

  3. Yes, it was indeed a Shaw's pencil

  4. A ballot paper which has been erased would probably be counted as "spoilt", I thihk. If you make a mistake on your paper and put the cross in the wrong box, you can ask one of the staff at the polling station. The pencil certainly looked and felt like a standard HB pencil, anyway.

  5. "If you make a mistake on your paper and put the cross in the wrong box, you can ask one of the staff at the polling station." Whoops, should have added "...for a replacement ballot".

  6. The ballot papers are counted at open tables and each counter is watched so there is no chance of altering a vote once the voter has placed it in the locked and sealed ballot box.
    As you say if you make a mistake you just ask for a fresh paper and the polling station staff will dispose of the wrong one.
    Also the paper is slightly tinted and would show any signs of erasing.
    The referendum result was a disappointment - but not unexpected.

  7. Don't know where else to write this, so I comment on this blog post: your new "Supplied for the public service" photo is fantastic!

  8. I found that stamped inside an old boxfile I found in a skip many years ago...I've been procrastinating whether to feature it in a future "archeology" posting.

  9. Shaw's ballot pencils are indelible, actually.