Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Election petition cases | The Solicitors' Journal - July 10, 1886

Election petition cases | The Solicitors' Journal - July 10, 1886


It may be useful, at the present time, to note some of the leading points decided by the election petition cases tried after the last General Election, and reported in the new part of "O'Malley & Hardcastle," which we recently reviewed.

Among them are the following: - A circle instead of a cross invalidates a vote; money paid by a candidate before he has been actually selected need not be included in his election expenses (Norwich case; but see Stepney case); a recount by the court itself may take place on reasonable grounds; it is illegal to hire persons to keep order at public meetings, although volunteers may be employed for that purpose; it is illegal to give refreshment to "workers"; the giving of a school-feast, in accordance with a usual practice, is not corrupt treating; and it is not an illegal device to issue cards containing a copy of the ballot-paper on which the name of one candidate is printed in very small type and the name of the other in very large type with a cross against it, followed by the words, "Be careful not to sign your voting-paper, nor make any other mark except the cross as shewn above, or your vote will be lost."

The disturbance of public meetings which has been so frequent of late gives a special interest just now to the decision that it is illegal to employ paid "chuckers-out." Mr. Justice Cave, in the Ipswich case, went very fully into this point, and laid it down that the keeping of order at meetings was intended to advance the political interest of the candidate by obtaining a hearing for him which he would not otherwise have had, and that expenses incurred on this account were as much election expenses as the expenses of printing and distributing an election address.

He added that for the protection of life and limb the expenses might be legally incurred. We think the distinction a sound one, though it may be frequently difficult to draw it in practice. On more points than one the two election judges differed, with the result of maintaining the status quo. The most important instance of this arose upon the question in the Stepney case whether a name (which was not one of the names on the register) and a cross on the back of the ballot-paper invalidated the vote. Mr. Justice Field was for the vote, but Mr. Justice Denman was against it, and, "the court being equally divided, the vote stood."

Both on principle and on the authority of the famous case of Woodward v. Sarsons (L. R. 10 C. P. 733), we side with Mr. Justice Denman. Mr. Justice Field's judgment to the contrary seems to assume it to be more probable that somebody else wrote the name than that the voter did - i.e., to assume negligence or criminality in the officials - whereas the assumption should surely be the other way. Once get rid of this assumption, and it would seem that the mark was made, as Mr. Justice Denman puts it, "in such a way as to afford a reasonable possibility of identifying the voter," the real object of the Ballot Act being "to prevent people agreeing together beforehand to something in the nature of a signature by which it may be known afterwards which were their ballot-papers."

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