Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Time to throw down the Gauntlet?

“A perception exists in the community that people should be free to exercise their democratic right to vote without being subjected to activity that could be considered at best an annoyance, and at worst interference.”

I was looking at the Daily Telegraph for May 2014, which commented on a UK election:

“Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, narrowly won re-election last night. Large and intimidating groups of Rahman supporters picketed the entrances to many polling stations”

“On the mid afternoon of election day, there were eleven male supporters of Lutfur Rahman in the playground of a local school and several more at the entrance. Voters had to run a gauntlet to get past them.”

That’s very much part of elections – the supporters gathered outside the polling station, and it can seem very intimidating. In Jersey, they now have to be outside the polling station, but in years gone by, they were inside, as in this account from Florida in 2012:

“Collier County Public Library Headquarters patrons and voters alike ran what one candidate described as a "gauntlet" at the Orange Blossom Drive polling station, flanked down the hallway by political and judicial candidates and their volunteers.”

And here is the effect:

“Several early voters stopped to chat with candidates Saturday.... For one woman, though, the "gauntlet" was more than she bargained for on her way in to vote. "No thanks," she told the candidates and volunteers as she walked toward the library's front doors. "I've had enough, thank you."

And Derry Ives observed that there had been an issue two elections prior, where residents expressed concern about “running a gauntlet” of candidates and their supporters. “We don’t want people to feel there’s a gauntlet,” she said.

On one of the UK forums, one person raised the question:

“What are the views on candidates (and supporting party members) hanging around outside polling stations on polling day?”

And he asks:

“What purpose does this serve? The general rules are that you can smile, say good morning and not a great deal else as there is a code of conduct essentially designed so you don’t hassle voters, which begs the question why bother being there? “

One of those replying said:

“I suppose if you arrived without a clue as to any of their policies they could give you a quick sanitised version before you made your earth-shaking choice.’We're going to abolish death and make everyone rich and happy, before conquering other planets and establishing colonies there.' That sort of thing.”

The Electoral Commission Queensland published a report on a bi-election in 2014:

Here are a few quotes:

“By far, the subject of the largest number of submissions received by the Commission related to canvassers at the by-election. Almost three quarters of submissions received concerned the activity of canvassers. Whilst some submissions were from canvassers complaining about the presence and activity of other canvassers, the majority of submissions were received from electors who had attended polling booths to cast their vote.”

“Many submitters were concerned about the presence of large numbers of canvassers at the entrances to polling booths. The idiom, ‘running the gauntlet’ appeared many times in submitters’ description of the entry to polling booths.”

Some notable examples of extracts from submissions are:

Submitter 46, a Kippa-Ring North ECQ booth worker, reported voters entering the polling booth to vote were agitated and irate at having to force through a ‘scrum’ of canvassers outside.

Submitter 42 stated that the number of canvassers was overbearing and left him feeling “quite uneasy”.

In submitting that the number of canvassers be capped, Submission 22 (a volunteer and scrutineer), stated “…the very large phalanx of workers for both major parties were unnecessary, intimidating at worst, annoying at best, and, in a practical sense, simply counterproductive”.

A “noisy gauntlet of candidates supporters press papers at us and pressurising us…” was reported by Submission 21 at Kippa-Ring

The comments in Submission 99, made by a worker at the sausage sizzle at the Scarborough booth, concisely encapsulates the views of many submitters, “Polling places should be impartial and should allow voters to visit and cast their votes without any pressure from any other person and without any intimidation implied or otherwise.”

And the Commission comments:

“A perception exists in the community that people should be free to exercise their democratic right to vote without being subjected to activity that could be considered at best an annoyance, and at worst interference.”

And in last night’s JEP, there was a letter which complained about this for local elections, which I reproduce below. Perhaps it is time for a rethink on this practice.

JEP Letter: “We don’t want these crowds of smiling candidates outside the polling stations”

On polling day for this election and all others in future, there will be a considerable number of candidates and their supporters standing outside the polling stations: Voters entering the buildings have to pass in front of their ranks and be subjected to, at best, friendly smiles, at worst everyone chorusing their greetings of `Good Day!'.

`Running the gauntlet', I call it, and quite frankly the crowds that I'm envisioning will put people off coming out to vote.

Election rules say that the candidates and their supporters may not wait inside the building of the polling station, but I'm hoping that the Jurats, who are officiating as returning officers, will make sure that the groups remain at,least.30 metres away from the entrances. I know-that there may not be a great choice of places near the entrances.

However, the candidates and supporters do themselves no favours by their presence.

Unwittingly, they are the disincentive for people to walk into the polling stations to cast their votes.

One day there will be online or telephone voting, or pre-polling will be extended, and this issue will naturally be resolved.


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