Returned ballots

Once upon a time, in an obscure country called Canada, we had some admirable election laws. These have lapsed, unfortunately, but as an immediate “reform,” I think they should be restored.

My favourite was the “returned ballot.” An eligible voter, who looked at the list of Party candidates in his riding, and was inclined to spit, could express himself on election day. I used to do this myself, when younger, but found that the law had already gone into disuse.

One went to the queue at the polling station. (Often there’d be none.) The returning officer would look through his voter roll, find one’s name and address, and check these against one’s identification.

Pause. … This is still the procedure up here. We don’t fool around when checking voter ID, or counting physical ballots, unlike in some other countries. The ballots are directly marked on physical paper, then counted manually. They must also be counted continuously, before accredited witnesses, any one of whom may howl the moment he suspects a trick. There are no super-doper voting machines, such as we apparently sell to naïve or commie foreigners. In the absence of “high tech,” the counting happens fast. We have the result from most polling stations by local midnight, and often hours before. They are quite checkable (the ballots must be preserved), and a recount is automatic if the result across the riding is too close.

The ballots themselves are hard to confound: no “down-ballot” to contend with. We don’t elect judges and dog-catchers in Canada; only Members of Parliament, one at a time. This means that when we have an election dispute, it will almost certainly not be about the count. Rather it will be over fussy and trivial campaign spending laws. Bad results must therefore be attributed only to the stupidity of the voters. Alas, that can’t be fixed.

Back to the polling station, where the electoral officer is now passing me a ballot, with a hint on how to make an X on it. I am directed to a voting stall.

But I refuse to go there. Instead, I turn earnestly to the officer and say: “I am returning this ballot.”

Chances were, even decades ago, he would be thrown into confusion. So one would explain his job to him. He was supposed to have a book, entitled “Returned Ballots.” Into this he was supposed to transcribe one’s name and address. Getting into the book was one’s only way to avoid the secret ballot. But it was important to get in, to be recorded correctly, rather than as a “spoilt ballot,” as one is counted now if one’s ballot has no X.

After voting, I would check the result, and if not even one returned ballot had been recorded, I could doubt it was legitimate.

Now comes the good part. For returned ballots were supposed to be a separate category in the election tally. It was competing with all the other candidates. If it won a plurality — more returned ballots than the leading candidate — the election was to be formally thrown out, and a by-election called, in which none of the candidates for the thrown out one were allowed to run again. Too, voters could “theoretically” do this over and over, until at least one Party chose a candidate we could stomach.

In theory, this was an excellent way for voters to “drain the swamp,” directly, by eliminating the political sleaze in successive groups. In practice — aheu —  it was never used. The political sleaze nevertheless spotted the possibility, and had it taken off the books, at both Dominion and Provincial levels. What can I say? They are sleaze.

So the first thing we must do is campaign for the return of the returned ballot, up here; and for its institution in all the other Western nations. Then the second is to impartially, but massively, campaign for its use. It could be the greatest thing since the ancient Athenian ostracon.