Thursday, May 19, 2011

Polling Day 2011 - Part 2

So, my intention was to be in the UK to continue my Quixotic relationship with the electoral system.

Imagine my delight when I arrive ten days before the election and call the electoral services office at Brighton and Hove council  to discover I am not on the electoral register. Of course with only ten days to go it was too late to get on the damn thing and I was resigned to the unusual prospect of not voting for a lost cause.

Having booked my return ferry for first thing on the day of the election I packed up my possessions from Pete’s spare room and took them to the car.  On the way I tripped over a polling card made out to my old address and forwarded by the Post Office with indecent lack of respect for my time management plan.

The ferry was due to due to depart at a time that meant that I could just make it if I voted at the crack of opening time and went straight to the port. 

I arrived at the Hanover Community Centre at five to seven to find the officials putting up the signage. It seems they have to put up two ‘Polling Station’ signs. One was tied reasonably securely to the litter bin out side the door.

The other proved more difficult. The Hanover centre has been used as a polling station since God was a nipper but they still have not successfully addressed the problem of tying a hefty hardboard sign to a brick wall with very thin string. And when I arrived two of them were doing that thing that you know will not work.

It was like a fly banging its head against a window and wondering why it cannot get closer to the sun. Or trying to Sellotape a sausage to an iceberg in a gale. They kept holding the sign against the notice board and waving the string at it and looking surprised when the sign fell to the pavement. A quick rummage in the back of the car produced a roll of gaffa tape and I offered to put them out of their misery. Of course I had an ulterior motive, I wanted them to open the polling station, not fight gravity with string.

Gaffa 1 - String 0
According to my new Timex watch (£24.99 from Argos with a strap made of biltong) and to their credit they opened a couple of minutes early and I wondered if my vote would be void if stuffed in the box before 7am… But this was not to be a problem.I went into the hall I know so well but which was temporarily taken over by The State.

A-M of the left N-Z on the right
I was asked which street I lived in and showed my polling card which said ‘Holland Street’ and was directed to the A to M table.

I was not on the list. My number was not on the list. Holland street was on the list but No 42 was not. They looked at my card:

Polling card with Post Office redirection label

“Ahh…” said The Official. “You live in Surrenden Crescent…” I pointed out that  the Surrenden Cresent address was a Post Office forwarding label, and that the card was for Holland Street.

I pointed out that I was Homeless and maybe they had a special section for Homeless People. They looked at the list. I looked at the list. There was no Homeless Section.

They started looking things up in the book of rules and I took a photo and was told I could not take photos, sorry… 

So I wandered around looking at things and thinking about ferries – and taking photos surreptitiously.
Well, I had to get a picture of ‘Shaws ballot paper compactor’.

Shaws Ballot Compactor

This essential piece of equipment is only £4.65 +VAT from:

Shaws also sell free standing Polling Station signs which could have saved them a lot of trouble and me a lot of gaffa tape. Any way after much phoning and intense debate it turned out that we Homeless People have a special section on the list. 

Much phoning and looking up rules...
But it is at the end of the N to Z list. If only I had persevered, I would be on my way by now.  

It may be a minor point and one which is only relevant every couple of years but once again the homeless, who already have a hard enough time, are treated differently and have to fight that bit harder.

Meanwhile, in the privacy of the polling booth I photographed everything I could – which was not much - for no better reason than the secrecy of the polling booth is sacrosanct. There is a suspicious barcode on the referendum ballot paper. Fortunately I have a bar code reader. This is what it said:
Moderb technology. Don'tcha just love it?
I put the crosses in the appropriate boxes...

...and in a spirit of rebellion stuffed my ballot papers which I had collected from the N-Z table into the A-M box. I mentioned this to the Official and was mildly surprised to see a look of concern cross her face – for an instant she looked really worried. Ha! I thought, another blow against the establishment.
Of course we lost the Referendum, but the Greens are now the biggest group on the council and were only one member short of a majority.

Must try harder - democracy is not as easy as it sounds.

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