There are 2 significant threats in any election where voting is done
using paper ballots - ballot box stuffing and undue influence of voters'
choices by impersonation.
Counterfeiting of ballot papers and stuffing the lot into the ballot
box cannot be completely ruled out. Then, there is "chained balloting",
where the perpetrator hands a marked ballot paper to a voter to cast
and buys a blank ballot paper from the voter on return from the polling
station. He then marks the blank paper for the next voter from whom
he can buy another blank vote. Finally, there is also the possibility
of persons impersonating voters whom they know will not be voting.
Having numbered ballot papers is still the best effective method to
counter these threats.
Serial numbers on ballot papers enable strict accounting of all ballot
papers issued and cast. That way, the number of papers found in the
ballot box at the end of the election can be reconciled with the number
of papers issued during the poll and the number of papers stocked
before the poll began. This is a means to deal with the threat of
ballot boxes being stuffed with false papers.
Ballot papers have to be numbered to provide evidence if there is
an allegation of impersonation, i.e. that a voter has cast his vote
pretending to be someone else. This is done if the court orders so,
by matching the suspicious ballot paper with the counterfoil, on which
the voter's registration number is recorded. If proved, the vote can
then be subtracted from the declared election results. Without the
ballot paper having a serial number, it will be difficult to establish
such an allegation, and to adjust the declared election results accordingly.
While some argue that it would be better to nullify an entire election
if there is any such electoral fraud, calling for a fresh election
would be too costly for taxpayers and traumatic for the electorate
if there are only a few allegations of impersonation.
So, is ballot secrecy compromised by reason of having a serial number?
Theoretically, it is possible for anyone with access to the ballot
papers to identify who cast a particular vote. The link between the
ballot paper number and the electoral register through the counterfoil
does facilitate tracing from a ballot paper to a voter's identity
on the register. However, ballot papers can be examined only under
strict conditions, and there are safeguards that make it extremely
difficult to find out how any particular voter voted.
After the count, all ballot papers and their counterfoils have to
be sealed in the Supreme Court vault for 6 months, after which all
the ballot papers and other election documents are destroyed. During
those 6 months, these documents can only be retrieved by court order.
The court will issue such an order only if it is satisfied that a
vote has been fraudulently cast and the result of the election may
be affected as a result. Our courts have issued no such order since
elections have been held here since 1948.
The ballot paper number is there to protect the integrity of the democratic
process, and not to undermine the secrecy of the vote.
The ballot paper number is still a feature of UK parliamentary and
local government elections.
||Last Updated on: 01 Sep 2004