Voting in both lobbies

There is a valuable analysis of Monday’s EU referendum vote in the House of Commons on the Ballots and Bullets website.  One interesting point is that two MPs abstained by voting in both lobbies.  This is a means of publicly demonstrating an abstention and a relatively recent one.   It is a practice that is not permitted in the House of Lords.  If a peer votes in both lobbies, his or her name is removed from the division lists.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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10 Responses to Voting in both lobbies

  1. Dave H says:

    All public elections should have a positive means of recording an abstention, including general elections. It provides a way of distinguishing the apathy vote (i.e. not turning up) from the “no suitable choices” vote where those voting can demonstrate that they were willing to turn out but didn’t want to vote for any of the alternatives.

    In a general or local election the only way to achieve this is to spoil the ballot paper, the Commons obviously has the vote both ways option, so how do peers demonstrate active abstention?

    I suspect the Commons method is a way of keeping the whips occupied because they see their MPs turn up at the correct door and tick them off, so they do at least appear on the ‘approved’ list.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dave H: That’s a very interesting point about elections.

      On the Lords, there is no equivalent to that employed in the Commons. As I mention, if a peer votes in both lobbies, his or her name is removed from the division lists. The only way publicly to abstain is to remain seated in the chamber during a division. However, there is a problem in that not everyone who remains seated is abstaining. Peers with mobility problems can remain in the chamber and wait until the clerk sees them and comes over and can indicate how they wish to vote.

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Lord Norton,
        In Alaska you may know that a true write-in candidate recently won an election for high office. It received a great deal of national attention because of connections to national figures like Governor Sarah Palin. However, in Louisiana and some other states it has been impossible in most of my lifetime to record aspoiled ballot or total abstention into the official record in a general election. However, there are usually sseveral contests on the ballot at the same time and one can easily vote for one only and then abstain from all others and this data will become public record more or less forever… A lot of this latter thing goes on. However, we have no equivalent of the write-in except very formal processes with high standards to meet. .

  2. maude elwes says:

    Well it certainly was bright of them to think of that ruse.

    However, it shouldn’t be necessary. There ought to be some way they can make clear their disquiet without having to resort to chicanery.

    A sensible system would surely have a box that expressely says, abstained.

    • Lord Norton says:

      maude elwes: There is a practical problem of how one would go about it. There isn’t a separate lobby that could be utilised. One could perhaps introduce a system whereby those who wished to abstain informed the clerk at the Table (a problem if there are a great many abstainers – e.g. a whole party) or possibly even sign an abstention book.

  3. Tory Boy says:

    Does the HOC, division list put them down as abstentions?

  4. ladytizzy says:

    Of passing interest, no less than 11 MPs appeared to confuse the gvt e-petition site which, at that time, had one petition with some 36,000 names attached, as they debated. In particular, despite John Hemming’s point at c.19:00hrs, echoing the above, three continued to push the same confusion. Less than impressive.

  5. Tory Boy says:

    Other motions for debate: Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank to call attention to the decison taken by the House Committee and the administration and Works Committee to end without report to or discussion in the chamber the daily delivery of Hansard to members living in London; and to move for papers. LN can you expang on the reasons behind this debate!!!

    • Lord Norton says:

      Tory Boy: Not all peers are enamoured of some of the changes made in order to save money. There has been a notable reduction in some of the printed material (such as writren evidence submitted to committees – now normally only published online) and distribution.

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