The Wiki Man How to Fix an Election

By Sutherland, Rory | The Spectator, May 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Wiki Man How to Fix an Election


Sutherland, Rory, The Spectator


In 1964 Harold Wilson was so afraid that a scheduled election - night broadcast of Steptoe & Son would cost him at least a dozen marginal seats that he successfully pressured the director-general of the BBC to postpone it. There are plenty of ways to manipulate an election, short of stuffing a ballot box.

Another example is here, from 1938:

This ballot paper crudely follows the advice of Dr Josef Goebbels, that 'the most effective form of persuasion is when you are not aware you are being persuaded'. Translated, it reads: 'Do you approve of the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938 and do you vote for the party of our leader, Adolf Hitler? Yes. No.'

It does several things no ballot should be allowed to do - it conflates two separate questions, uses mention of the Anschluss to 'prime' voters by referencing Hitler's recent 'triumph' and arranges the tick boxes to create a default answer. It's the equivalent, in other words, of printing Scottish Referendum Papers in blue and white and then scenting them with the faint odour of shortbread. Then scheduling a peak-time, election-eve showing of Braveheart on BBC Scotland.

Not much better is the recent South Shields by election, where 60 per cent of the votes were postal votes.

(An insider at the count revealed that Ukip won a clear majority of the votes cast in person by those Tynesiders who can walk unaided. ) Almost all losing candidates will blame some external factor for a narrow miss but in this case Ukip is inarguably right. Psephologists know that seemingly trivial differences as the order of the names on the ballot paper can affect voting, which is why they randomise them from one paper to the next. …

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