I have spent rather a lot of time this week giving "voting assistance" to a group of people with disabilities.
Before anyone accuses me of "stealing votes" let me explain. These are people who might be intellectually disabled. They cannot read or write or, if they can, they cannot do it well enough to fill out a ballot paper without assistance. There have also been some people who do not read or write English but have the right to vote and need help to understand how it needs to be done. There are people who have no capacity to hold a pencil.
There are a good many people in our society who need assistance to vote. They need assistance given to them in such a way that they vote in accordance with their wishes, not the wishes of anyone else.
This is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I have done it before on many occasions. It never gets any easier.
Of course I could make it easy, very easy. I could just go ahead and "suggest" to some of these people that they do "this" or "that" or "something else". I could fill out a ballot paper for someone who cannot read it in any way I wanted to fill it out if I was going to take their vote from them.
But, for me, a vote is far too important for that. This person has their name on the electoral roll. They are required by law to "mark the ballot paper" - or get someone to do it in accordance with their wishes. I do what they want. I do my very best not to influence them. I sit beside them, not opposite them. I do that because I want them to see what I am doing and not see my face. I try to keep my voice neutral. These things are important.
This week I have had people tell me, "I want that person because she has red hair like me" and "He looks nice so I want him". If that is how they have decided then it is up to them. If, after as careful an explanation I can offer, they decide not to mark their ballot paper properly then I have to accept that. Their vote won't count if they don't mark all the squares on one paper and at least six squares above the line in another. That is up to them.
Some of these people simply do not understand the process at all. They may understand the concept of choosing one person but not more than one person. The idea of "preferences" is beyond them. I have tried explaining this over and over again but they tell me things like, "No, I only want that person."
I expect these people to have problems, problems understanding. If they did not have problems they would not need voting assistance. What bothers me more though is that there seem to be a great many people who should be able to fill out their ballot papers unassisted who also believe that they "must" follow the preferences on a "how to vote" card or that they can mark just one box and have the vote counted.
I am coming to the conclusion that our voting system is unnecessarily complex - and that is really disenfranchising too many people. Their votes may be counted but do they really understand enough about the way the system works to make their vote count?