Big thank you from

Costume drama in voting booths

Rambler 25/05/2001

I FIND it wise to keep off the subject of politics, but I will admit that I have other priorities (writes The Rambler).

My lackadaisical attitude probably stems from my upbringing. Actually, I was a married man and a father, before I ever entered a polling booth, and that was far away from South Antrim. At home, elections were rare and any that were held were mere formalities. The outgoing candidate was regularly returned unopposed. Any time there was an opposition candidate, he (she) had no more hope than the proverbial snowball. That was in days gone by.

As a young fellow I often overheard light-hearted banter based on the popular slogan "Vote early and vote often!"

I won't say that this actually happened but according to folklore the wardrobe of a popular amateur dramatic society, which was stored in a local village hall where voting took place, got quite an airing on one memorable occasion. A covey of enthusiasts, who couldn't bear to see countless unused votes wasted, set out to compete in a kind of 'Houdini' escapade.

"Who are ye this time?" 'Minnie Wilson' or' Johnny Lavery' or Bob McIldoo' or whatever, according to the names outstanding on the voters' list (so they say, anyhow).

So many said it that there must have been some tomfoolery went on before voting time ended. Nothing sectarian of course!

Both sides joined in. No! I am not mentioning the venue, and any names quoted are purely fictitious. The result of the election was the same as it was in the beginning, with a five-figure majority and a good time enjoyed by all.

I got a rude wakening when I moved West of the Bann. Periodically, the local papers ran features on the progress of sessions held locally to sort-out claims and counter-claims about the accuracy of revised voters' lists.

As far as I can remember an official from the office of the Clerk of the Crown and Peace presided and quite a lot of heat was generated.

'Blow-ins' got a rough ride and even the dead weren't allowed to vacate their accustomed places on local lists.

When election day came every 'back-slider' was identified, and ardent political activists scoured the area in cars. The blind, the lame all other incapacitated people named on voters' lists were harried and one might even say 'hi-jacked'. It was a case of `all out' and anyone who stalled was black-listed and widely named.

The enthusiasts operated on the basis that they knew how everyone that they were harrying would vote, but, as they say in Montiaghs, they would have got a quare gunk .... in some cases if they had been able to spy what went on in the polling booth when, say, a 'blow-in', placed his or her X.

The introduction of rules to require voters to produce proof of identity should have solved all the problems. But has it?

Ulster Star