Monday, 21 June 2010

Motivation and Mind Reading

The overall result was as follows: Francis Le Gresley (5,798 votes), Stuart Syvret (3,437), Patrick Ryan (3,212), Gerard Baudains (1,329), Deputy Geoff Southern (1,085), Nick Le Cornu (382), Gino Risoli (76), Philip Maguire (72) and Peter Remon-Whorrall (27). There were 113 spoilt papers.

Both in the main text of the JEP, and in one of the columnists - I believe it was Christine Herbert - mention was made of the 113 spoilt papers. The adjective placed before these, on each occasion, was "deliberately" as in "deliberately spoilt ballot papers".

Either the JEP is privy to confidential information, is breaching all kinds of election laws on the secrecy of the ballot box, or has a special mind reading device of the kind seen in Doctor Who. I cannot see any other way in which they knew that those ballot papers were spoilt "deliberately" rather than simply accidentally. It is the kind of sloppy assumption that some accredited journalists make - although I would say that this does not apply to the BBC who are far more careful in their use of language.

In the election for Chief Minister, all the States members present have to vote, and there is no provision for abstention, so the only way possible to register that you don't want the candidates is to spoil your paper. And yet on reporting of that, when the election for Chief Minister was between Frank Walker and Stuart Syvret, the few spoilt papers there were described in terms of members being unable to complete a ballot paper properly; in other words, in the one election where deliberate spoiling was much more likely, it was assumed again (sloppily) that a few States members were simply incompetent.

My son was voting for the third time since the two elections for Senators and Deputies back in 2008. In both of those, in our Parish, voting was for multiple candidates, and it would be a natural mistake for someone whose only experience had been those occasions to assume this election was on similar lines, especially as this was much lower profile, and he hadn't really been following the candidates much. Voting for two candidates would be a spoilt vote, as would anyone following the Stuart Syvret election posters, with their large tick instead of a cross. [Needless to say, he knew from my instructions that it was a cross against just one candidate].

Now I know that the signs are clear on the booths, but my experience of people reading manuals to tell them how anything operates - pcs, mobile phones, microwaves - is that 90% of the time, they assume they know what to do, and just do it - someone may show them how to do it, and then they don't bother with any written instructions; it is only when something goes wrong that they bother to do so. I think that accidents and incompetence could well add up to a number of the spoilt votes.

But incompetence, or accidents, are simply ruled out of the last election, where the JEP adds a subtle moral discourse by implying that there are some people out there who deliberately want to spoil their ballot papers, and all the ballot papers must reflect those nasty undemocratic people.

Yet most people - and I know quite a few - who didn't feel like voting for any candidate for a variety of reasons, simply took the easier option of not voting at all. If the JEP had said that 70-75% of the electorate deliberately decided not to vote at all, they may well have been nearer the mark. And that sounds pretty terrible, much more so than 113 people "deliberately" spoiling papers, and it is more accurate reporting. That is the real challenge for democracy.

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