Conduct of Elections
The conduct of elections for the House of Representatives and agencies of local government is closely regulated by statute; in contrast, elections for other bodies is to a large extent free from statutory control, although certain minimal requirements are usually specified either by statute or by the rules of the body concerned. As a result, the procedure and machinery for election for the various bodies does differ in detail. For the House of Representatives and agencies of local government, voting is done by the marking of a printed ballot paper containing the names of all candidates. The ballot papers are supplied to the voter at special polling places which are provided with private cubicles; on receiving a ballot paper the voter must, without discussing the matter with anyone, retire into one of these cubicles and cancel out the names he rejects. The marked paper he then folds and places in a locked box, again without discussion, and these recorded notes are later counted by the election officials in the presence of scrutineers appointed by each candidate. The ballot papers are not signed by the voter, but they are numbered to enable a check to be made to see if a voter has voted twice; but this check is performed in the presence of the scrutineers, and is not used for any other purpose.
No physical or other interference with electors, otherwise then by written or oral argument unaccompanied by force, threats, bribery, or the like, is permitted at any time, and on the actual day of the election no form of electioneering is permitted; it is also prohibited to seek to obtain information, or to disclose such information, as to how an elector voted, and each candidate is required to render an official account for all his election expenses. Although within living memory there have been a small number of breaches of these requirements, they have all been of a technical nature not characterised by any improper motive.
As regards bodies not of a governmental character, they are permitted very much to regulate their own procedure as they think fit by their rules, with the exception of educational institutions which are regulated by statute, and with the qualification that trade unions are required to adopt a procedure which is “sufficiently democratic” to the satisfaction of the Registrar of Industrial Unions. The procedure of the election varies from the fairly extensive formalities usually adopted in the rules of trade unions and large companies for voting by means of printed ballot papers dispatched to the electors, marked by the voter where he chooses, and posted or handed back to officials of the union or company, to the less formal method of writing on a slip of paper at a meeting of electors, or even by voting by voices or show of hands at such a meeting, which is adopted by smaller organisations.
Although registration as an elector is compulsory where mere residence is a qualification for voting — i.e., House of Representatives, borough and county councils, road boards and town boards — and is automatic in other cases by compilation from the records of the body concerned, in no case is it compulsory to vote. It is usual for each elector to be permitted to vote once only, but in respect of those bodies in which the franchise is, or was until recently, based exclusively upon a property qualification — county councils, road boards, land-drainage boards, water-supply boards, local railways boards, rabbit boards, and river boards — electors are entitled to a number of votes proportionate to the rating value of their property; so also in companies, the voting power frequently varies according to the value and type of shareholding.
Elections for bodies of a private nature are usually held each year, but for other bodies in respect of which it is felt that annual elections would be too costly and disruptive of policy and administration, elections are held at greater intervals. Thus for the House of Representatives, and most agencies of local government, elections take place every three years.