Just how many spoilt ballot papers were there?

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I’ve been looking at the final results of the London elections on the London Elects website and I’m confused. Under Turnout and Technical Information, it state the following:

Electorate: 5,419,913
Papers counted / turnout: 2,456,990
Turnout: 45.33%

Good votes
1st choice: 2,415,958
2nd choice: 2,004,078

Rejected votes *
1st choice: 41,032
2nd choice: 412,054

Blank **(no votes cast): 13,034
No 2nd preference ***: 407,840

* “Rejected votes” refers to ballot papers where the vote has not been counted because the ballot paper has not been filled out correctly. This may be because the voter has marked more than one preference in one column, because the voter identified themselves on the ballot paper, if the voter’s intention is unclear or if the voter has spoiled his or her paper in any way.
** “Blank votes” refers to ballot papers where no 1st choice and no 2nd choice have been marked, and no vote has been counted. (This data is only available for 2008.)
*** “No 2nd preference” refers to ballot papers where voters have only made 1st choice vote and no 2nd choice vote. The first choice vote has been counted. (This data is only available for 2008.)

If 412,000 second preference votes were rejected in addition to 407,000 in which individuals didn’t express a second preference, this is a pretty sorry indictment of the electoral system and given the closeness of the final result is a very serious matter indeed. But none of these numbers add up. If there were 2,456,990 votes cast in total, of which 2,004,078 had “good” second preference votes, then there is a difference of 452,912 “bad” second preferences to account for. The rejected votes, blank ballot papers, and no second preference categories are defined as sui generis from one another. Add them all up and you have 380,016 too many votes. Add any two of those three categories together (i.e. assume that the no second preference category is a subset of the rejected votes category) and it still doesn’t add up.

Either I’m missing something pretty fundamental here, or something is seriously awry. Any ideas?

Regarding the Assembly results, much better news all round. The numbers do add up (assuming the blank ballot papers are not included under total votes cast) and there are significantly fewer of them than there were in 2004.

11 thoughts on “Just how many spoilt ballot papers were there?

  1. I think what you’re missing is that some people will have voted 1 Ken or 1 Boris and still have been counted in the second vote, but also counted as having not cast a second preference or cast an ineligible second preference

  2. That makes no sense Richard. The “no second preference” category is defined as “ballot papers where voters have only made 1st choice vote and no 2nd choice vote”. The “rejected votes” category is defined as “ballot papers where the vote has not been counted because the ballot paper has not been filled out correctly. This may be because the voter has marked more than one preference in one column, because the voter identified themselves on the ballot paper, if the voter’s intention is unclear or if the voter has spoiled his or her paper in any way.” Neither category covers what you are referring to here.

    I’m perfectly aware that not all second preference votes transferred to one of the top two placed candidates – about 200,000 in fact. That’s another weakness of the system, but it isn’t what I’m talking about here.

  3. (Having come here from your tweet)

    Looking at the numbers (adding them up to get the turnout figure), it would seem like the “Rejected votes” figures includes the “Blank” and “No second preference” figures. Which would make some sort of sense, I suppose.

    So my gut is telling me to blame the e-counting. My head is telling me they prolly just explained the categories inaccurately ;o)

    Owen

  4. It could be that, but there are two problems: a) the numbers still don’t add up; b) it suggests the total number of spoilt, as opposed to blank, second preference votes was 5,000. Given that the number of spoilt first preferences came to 41,000, that is a little hard to believe.

  5. The numbers make no sense to me too. Perhaps, James, if you present the figures as a spreadsheet, your argument might be clearer.

  6. It was a complete e-count.

    You seem to have omitted the fact that in the second round Mayoral vote only the second preference votes for Boris or Ken were considered.

    All 2nd preference for other candidates were rejected at the stage.

    On the issue of spoilt votes the scanners were so sensitive that they picked up all marks or no marks. All such ballots were individually checked with the checking visual to all – first level. They could only be accepted or referred to the RTO – second level.

    These were then checked on huge screens so there could be no arguments. It was why the count over ran many hours

  7. Surely it’s not too hard to believe that the number of spoilt second preferences was so low compared to the number of spoilt second preferences: after all, someone actively spoiling their ballot will void them on first preference and won’t show up in the second prefence figures. Whatever is the case, the reporting of the results is pretty awful.

    The rejected second preference votes must include “no second preference”. Adding the number of total rejected second preference votes to the number of “good” (thanks, America) second preference votes gives 2,416,132 which is 174 higher than 2,415,958, the number of “good” first preference votes. So there were 174 more votes carried over to second preferences than there were “good” first preference votes.

    The only explanation I can think of is that 174 people put no X in the first preference column but did put an X in the second preference column. They wouldn’t therefore show up in blank votes since the paper wasn’t returned blank, would show up in rejected first preference votes since they gave no first preference, and wouldn’t show up in rejected second preference votes since they allocated a second preference. No combination of the numbers then would logically add up.

    I think we need some Venn diagrams.

  8. The 174 varience comes from

    Good 1st Good 2nd Diff Rejected 2nd Variance
    Merton and Wandsworth 167859 140021 27838 28010 -172
    Ealing and Hillingdon 176993 173466 29721 29724 -3
    Havering and Redbridge 165418 139100 26318 26317 +1

    Why it happened is not with my remit to comment on at the moment. Hope this clarifies it a little

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