Thursday, May 05, 2011

They know how you voted

I suppose I’m the last one to notice but it has finally dawned on me there is no such thing as a secret ballot in this country.

The foundation and bedrock of our democracy is no more.

Why has it taken me so long to notice?

When I went to vote in the AV referendum the elections officer took my polling reference number and wrote it down on a list.

Next to my number was already printed the serial number of the ballot paper he gave me.

Obviously, the ballot paper had the same set of numbers. It's like a cheque and a cheque stub.

It follows that if some dubious Government official wanted to discover how I had voted, he could work back from the ballot paper, match its serial number with the number on the officer’s list, read across to the polling reference number and identify me as the voter.

Or you.

Mostly this doesn’t matter. Nobody would bother to check if we voted Yes or No to AV or Tory or Lib Dem in some dull council election.

But suppose you wanted to vote Communist, Socialist Worker, BNP or UKIP. Suppose you backed Sinn Fein or any other fringe party of which the Establishment disapproved.

It wouldn’t be difficult to sort out the relatively few ballot papers with an X by a controversial candidate’s name.

It wouldn’t be difficult to take the serial number and compare it with the elections officer’s little list of voters’ numbers.

And there you are – the secret ballot is no longer secret. They know who you voted for.

I asked the bloke who took my number and gave me my voting slip what happened to the papers once they’d been counted.

He said they were stored somewhere secure. How secure? Oh very, he assured me. For how long? He didn’t know. What happened to them in the end? He didn’t know.

In an era when privacy is disappearing – not because of the media and the courts but thanks to charlatans posing as our friends (Apple, Sony, Google, Experian etc), it’s probably too late to worry that the secret ballot is a fiction.

But it’s another reason not to bother voting.

(And in case you wondered, I voted Yes to AV not because I approve of it but because I disapprove of David Cameron forcing this ridiculous debate on the country when we’re financially up the creek and I wanted to register my protest).

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