Tellers, say Wikipedia, help their parties identify supporters who have not yet voted, so that they can be contacted and encouraged to vote, and offered assistance—such as transport to the polling station—if necessary. In as far as this increases turn-out, it can be said to be “good” for the democratic process, since a higher voter turnout is generally considered desirable.
In my time I have sat on wobbly plastic chairs / stood in soggy puddles / leaned on rough brick walls for hours-on-end in a multitude of polling stations across the land, at a variety of elections for all manner of Councils and Governments, as a teller, collecting voter numbers on behalf of a pick-n-mix bag of political parties.
And I can now confirm that the Friday 23 May UK election for the European Parliament was nothing like any other election I have been a part of. From the outset it was clear that voters considered this to be a second Brexit vote, not the General Election for the European Parliament, which it actually was.
The tone among the small band of tellers, representing the differently coloured parties, is always friendly and jovial. Political differences are set aside for the day and everyone shares the numbers they manage to collect. And biscuits. And Werther’s Originals.
As a teller, you’re strictly not allowed to chat with voters, other than to ask for their voter number, but the rules seemed much more relaxed this time, almost as if the official watchdogs considered this election a bit of a joke.
And the political parties seemed to agree with them. I only ran into two Labour Party tellers throughout the entire day, the rest of the time I was bimbling around the polling stations on my own, sporting my bright Green rosette. Apparently there were a few Liberal Democrats knocking about, but tellers for the Tories, the Brexiters, the Women’s Equality people, Animal Rights activists and an assortment of independents, all stayed at home.
To pass the time during the 7am – 10pm long day, tellers become dab hands at conducting their very own private exit polls, simply by people-watching.
First up: The seasoned voters, who know the ropes. Generally happy to pass on their voter number to the tellers. They know that if they don’t, some fresh-faced political activist with a clipboard will just be banging on their door at 9pm, urging them to leg it down to the polling station in their slippers.
Next in line: Many more first-time voters than usual, from 18 year olds to the 30 somethings, who clearly had not voted before; “How long will this take?” What do I need to do?”, “I’m a bit nervous about all this, actually”.
Many became mightily offended when asked for their voter number, clearly calculating that the tellers must be from MI5 or Europol or something. “No you certainly can’t have my number!!” they’d scowl.
Total turnout may prove to be around the usual dismal UK level of 30-odd percent, but this time it was definitely a different thirty percent.
A kindly polling station official, out for a breath of fresh air told of how people were asking him “which party is for Leave and which is for Remain?”, of course, the official’s lips had to remain sealed. “Well, if you can’t tell me, how the **** am I supposed to know who to vote for?” Good question mate.
Third up: A large number of #givethekidsyourvote families with kids and dogs in tow. Now, this is genius! Basically, as this whole Brexit / Europe thing is about our children’s future and as they can’t yet vote, their parents vote for them. Ask your kids what they want to vote for and then put your cross where they want it. I like that. A lot. It’s probably anarchy.
And finally: The most distressing folk to turn up in their droves to cast their vote, the dutiful continental European citizens living in the UK, only to be summarily turned away, with no explanation, because of a monumental bit of bureaucratic bungling. Apparently, there are thousands of them being denied their opportunity to vote. If this does, indeed, turn out to be clerical cock-up in some complacent Whitehall office, the British authorities ought to be in deep doo-doo. Oh, they already are.
Denying eligible citizens their vote is illegal and a very serious offence. If this is you, head for #DeniedMyVote on twitter or the very useful the3million website. You can also email email@example.com. While I did not agree with https://remainunited.org and their tactical voting advice during the election campaign, if they are now picking up this case, they deserve our full backing!
So, what will be the outcome of the UK’s European election day? With so many first-timers, clearly regretting not turning up to the Brexit referendum, and a sizeable number of anarchic #givethekidsyourvote families, all of them more likely than not Remainers, my conclusion is that Remain will carry the day over Leave in this round. Even if Nigel’s Brexit Farrago claims the pointy hat on the night.
But this wasn’t a second Brexit referendum, and the result, whatever it is, won’t make a blind bit of difference to our Brexit mess. It is, however, bound to colour the tone of the debate. Until the next time we vote.
And the Greens will have done well!