Following the outcome of the EU Referendum, I had a conversation with my mum that inspired me to make my first Freedom of Information request. Given the precarious nature of FOI legislation, it was very much a case of “Quick, before whoever the next Prime Minister is scraps it…” because FOI allows both journalists and members of the public to ask awkward questions, and when they get the answers (if they get the answers…), to tell other people about them, who then tell other people, who often then get very very cross… Some stories/campaigns that would have been impossible without FOI would include the expenses scandal and Private Eye’s map of offshore owned property in the UK.
Anyway, my mum spoiled her ballot paper in the referendum by writing “You are all lying” on it, and we wondered how many other people had spoiled the ballot paper. Or, to put it another way, how many people had looked at the paper and decided, for various reasons, not to answer the question.
As it turned out, I needn’t have submitted a FOI request to the Electoral Commission because they were planning to publish the the information anyway on their website.
It makes interesting reading, and has made me realise just how complex the issue is. In the spreadsheet, reasons for rejecting a ballot paper are listed under four different columns, headed respectively:
- No official mark
- Voting for both answers
- Writing or mark
- Unmarked or void
I’ve tried to add up the total result of rejected ballot’s but lost count a few times. That said, I can definitely say that the answer is either 25,240 or 25,359 as one wards figure of 119 may have been counted once or twice.
So, that’s just over 25,000 people who voted, but didn’t vote Remain or Leave.
Of the four reasons listed above, my mums spoiled ballot paper would fall into number 3. But it was number 2 that intrigued me the most: Voting for both answers.
There was a social media campaign a few days before the vote, urging people who weren’t sure which way to vote to vote Remain. But, that said, voting both ways is another way of saying you weren’t sure.
There were a total of 9,084 people who voted for both answers.
Of those who voted for both answers, the highest number of people voting this way were in Birmingham (311), Brent (157) and Leicester (154), there were also over 100 votes cast this way in each of the following areas:
- Northern Ireland
- Tower Hamlets
I can’t help but think that these nine thousand and eighty four people have so far been excluded from the often vitriolic debates around voting motivations, post Brexit. No doubt a lot of them are quite pleased about that, but it does mean that there’s a whole dimension to the debate that hasn’t been discussed yet. One that I personally find more interesting than facile smug commentary by London journalists on the population of Blackpool, as heard on Radio 4 recently. That said, the piece on Boston and Brexit in the Economist was a much more intelligent piece.