At the Polling Station

Josh Allen

I was sitting behind my folding table in the polling station – usually a bingo hall – when I saw the elderly couple come into the sport club's lobby, hesitate and walk through the wrong door into the bar. I hurried across to help them.

‘Excuse me, are you looking to vote?’

‘No, no. I have a vote but I'm not going to use it this time because I don't agree with these police whatsits. Thanks though.’

‘They just out for a pint?’ the presiding officer asked when I got back.


‘Can't blame them.’

When the first police and crime commissioners were elected in November 2012, average turnout across England and Wales was 15 per cent. Last week in the West Midlands, a hastily arranged by-election for a new commissioner, two days before the bank holiday weekend, enticed 10.4 per cent of the electorate to the polls. (It wasn’t the lowest turnout ever; only 8.5 per cent voted in the 1942 parliamentary by-election in bombed-out Poplar South.)

I've been staffing polling stations, on and off, for four years. Last Thursday my colleagues and I got there at 6.30 to set up in time to open at 7. We had eight voters in the first hour. One of them thanked us for giving him a reason to get out of bed: now he'd be able to get to Aldi before all the disabled parking bays went.

With forty punters by lunchtime we were doing well. A station in Turves Green had had 14; one in a down-at-heel part of Northfield, only three.

We passed the 100 mark shortly after 4 p.m. Most of the voters were pensioners. Working people increasingly vote by post. Turnout at many polling stations across the county was less than 3 or 4 per cent; last Thursdays election may be the first in which more than half of those who voted did so by post.

‘Do you need to scan that?’ a smartly dressed young man asked, pointing to the barcode on his voting paper.
‘Oh, no,’ the presiding officer said.

Many younger voters, or those from elsewhere in the EU, had brought their driver's licence or passport and a utility bill. They were amazed they didn’t need them, how easy it was to vote.

At ten o'clock we shut the door, closed the booths, sealed the ballot box and rearranged the chairs for bingo; 183 out of 2293 possible voters had come through the door. The next day it was announced that the Labour candidate, David Jamieson, had won with just over 50 per cent of first preference votes.