By Joe Churcher
May 21, 2004
A daunting electoral puzzle will face
voters in parts of London on June 10 when they grapple with
casting six votes on four different-coloured papers into
three colour-coded ballot boxes.
Around 30,000 people in the capital are facing a Krypton
Factor-style challenge involving four different voting
systems which has caused a major headache for election
chiefs in five town halls.
The added complexity in what is already a congested day of
voting for all Londoners has been caused by seats on
councils being vacated, forcing by-elections.
Those will be decided by using the traditional
first-past-the-post method used for electing MPs to the
House of Commons.
But the other polls on the day ĺ─ý for the Mayor of London,
the capitalĺ─˘s Assembly and the European Parliament ĺ─ý are
each being contested under different forms of proportional
To choose who will be the capitalĺ─˘s next mayor, voters
will select first and second choice candidates on a pink
paper ĺ─ý under the Supplementary Vote system ĺ─ý and place
them in an orange box.
The same receptacle will take the yellow and orange papers
on which electors will opt for an individual to represent
their local constituency on the GLA and a party they would
most like to provide a further member from a list of
That election is conducted using the Additional Member
On the European Parliament paper, which is white, voters
select either a party or an independent candidate under the
Party List system and then place it in a white box.
That will leave a traditional black metal ballot box into
which will go the grey voting slip on which, simply,
electors will choose one person to represent them on their
The five council seats up for election are spread right
across the capital: Bensham Manor, Croydon; New River,
Hackney; Lower Edmonton, Enfield; Lower Morden, Merton; and
Chadwell Heath, Barking and Dagenham.
Stephen Judson, policy manager at independent elections
watchdog the Electoral Commission said: ĺ─˙Itĺ─˘s certainly
not straightforward and everybody is aware of the scope for
confusion ĺ─ý both for the administrators who have to run
the election and the voters themselves.ĺ─¨
He said town hall election chiefs had been put through
ĺ─˙probably the most comprehensive training programme ever
put in placeĺ─¨ and the Commission was confident they would
Mr Judson said it was also possible to overstate the extent
of the difficulty for ordinary voters who would receive
ĺ─˙thorough advice in an impartial mannerĺ─¨ at polling
ĺ─˙The ballot papers they are having to complete are quite
straightforward and have clear instructions on them. It is
not necessary to understand the mechanics of the particular
voting system to be able to cast your vote.ĺ─¨
Holding all the elections did have the ĺ─˙capacity for
confusionĺ─¨, he conceded, but had also been shown to help
In Scotland fears over the impact of using several different
electoral systems led the Government to set up a commission
to investigate the introduction of the single transferable
vote for local government polls.
But Mr Judson said the Electoral Commission could not get
involved in discussions of the merits of changing the
systems used for elections unless asked by the Government.
The Government has a manifesto commitment to review the
voting system and pledged that any moves to change the
process for electing MPs would be put to a referendum.
As the body that would be in charge of such a referendum,
the Commission had been seen to remain independent, he said.
The unprecedented proliferation of elections and voting
systems has certainly created a lot of work for Croydon
Councilĺ─˘s assistant head of democratic and legal services
With the by-election confirmed less than three weeks ago,
his staff have had to work flat out to deal with a situation
more complex than any he has experienced before.
Voters in Bensham Manor would be ĺ─˙inundatedĺ─¨ with ballot
papers and votes and many would need help to ĺ─˙get through
the process unscathedĺ─¨.
It is for that reason that the borough is to station an
extra clerk in each of the wardĺ─˘s six polling stations to
help guide people through the task.