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The Evening Star THURSDAY DECEMBER 24, 1914., Issue 15684, 24 December 1914
The Evening Star THURSDAY DECEMBER 24, 1914.
Thk result of the latest recount of the
votes recorded in the An Unsatisfactory Dunedin Central elecElection. torate ~ lias been 'Jo
give to Mr Statham a majority of a round dozen* and to all intents and purposes ho is tho sitting member, as the writ has been endorsed to that effect by tho Returning Officer. As possession has been held tot be equal to nine points of tbo law, Mr Statham is to bo congratulated heartily on the set of, circumstances—fortuitous or otherwise, according to individual temperament—that has caused him to resume his parliamentary association with the district. As we have said more than once during the campaign, men of Mr Statham’s mental calibre, adherence to conviction, and uprightness of character can ill lie spared from tho councils of tho nation, and our Parliament would bo more looked up to than it is were more of his stamp returned to it. That by tho way, however. There are features connected with this muchcounted vote that are decidedly unsatisfactory, and call for comment.
Tlie chief blunder, which is responsible for tlie unseating of Mr Munro, was committed by the deputy returning officer at Caversharn, who* in contravention of tho plain terms of the Legislature Act and the express instructions of his superior officer, issued to voters a large number of ballot papers that were properly ruled out as invalid. There is no more careful or painstaking returning officer in tho Dominion than Mr H. Maxwell, who was at paiticular pains prior to the General Election to “coach” his deputies in the proper discharge of their duties. His deputy at Caversharn is a mini of average education, and therefore should have been cognisant of the intention of the Legislature. Besides his post experience in, such matters, and in addition to tho leeturettes which Mr Maxwell found it necessary to deliver to his aides, this individual had before him for guidance a printed copy of the “instructions to Deputy Returning Officers ” issued by tho Electoral Department, in which it is distinctly set forth that the deputy shall
Fill in the “consecutive” number on both the counterfoil und tho top righthand corner of the back of the ballot paper, beginning with tho number one in tho case of tho first ballot paper issued [by 'him], and on, 1 all succeeding ballot paper's issued tho number on the counterfoil and ballot paper must bo the same, and run consecutively, so that no two papers issued shall bear the same number. Ho shall fold oner the righthand .corner of the ballot paper so as to conceal the consecutive number. Nothing could bo plainer than the direction contained in tho sentence we have italicised. Yet this sapient official, in order to make assurance doubly sure, affixed tho roll number twice—first in tho appointed place on the left-hand aide and then in tho centre of tha obverse side of the ballot paper, instead of affixing it at tin* top of the right-hand corner, folding the page down, and covering it with an adhesive slip of paper provided for that particular purpose. Mr Maxwell, ever vigilant on these occasions, sent his officials into every booth at stated intervals on polling day, in order to minimise irregularities tor worse, as unfortunately happened, and they made the discovery shortly after noon that the Caversham deputy had issued no less than. 118 of these irregular ballot papers. At the count it was shown that of this number 69 had been cast for Mr Munro and 49 for Mr ‘ Stainam. Both 'when making his count
oa the night of December :10. and, hia scrutiny Mr Maxwell .treated P these votes as yalid, and consequently; certified that Mr Mnnro had * been returned ; - but we hold that ho was not justified in so doing, because on their obverse face, the whole of these votes constituted an irregularity that affected the result;. If those votes had been rejected from the outset, as they ought to have been, Statham was unquestionably the elect of Dunedin Central at the first count. Can anything be more clearly stated than the section which defines the registrar’s duty under such circumstances? Ho shall reject as informal ail ballot papers . . . whereon anything not authorised by this Act is written or . marked by which the rotor can be identified. other "lhan the writing in the corner sealed by the deputy returning officer-. It may bo quite true that in the process of counting, necessarily hurriedly done on the first instance, the back of the ballot paper may not bo observed, all being intent on ascertaining how the individual vote has l?een recorded; hut, all the same, the voter can bo identified by Ilia number, and inquisitive scrutineers have before now made themselves familiar with matters that ought never to have been disclosed beyond the four walls of the polling booth. There is, moreover, an apposite decision by Lord Coleridge in respect to an English election petition (Woodward v. Sarson, L.R., 10 C.P.), ii which the facts were marvellously similar to those in the present case, and in which the Court held that such a marking of tho ballot paper invalidated it. But, on the other hand, there were several instances in which Mr Maxwell rightly interpreted the discretionary power vested in him by the Act, and allowed -certain votes—notably where the voter, misled by tho advice given by our daily contemporary on the morning of tho poll, signified by a cross where his preference lay. And he likewise allowed on the final count certain absentees’ and Expeditionary Force votes which did not come to hand until after his official declaration had been published. Every vote that is available must surely be counted; and it will never do to recognise laches of the Post Office as furnishing pretests for upsetting an election where the numbers are so close. It would appear that at the magisterial count the stipendiary disallowed the voting papers that bore tho cross mark upon them, and at a subsequent stage divested himself of responsibility, holding that the returning officer must decide for himself, whal constitutes an ‘'irregularity,” within the meaning of tho Act. Thereupon Mr Maxwell restored such votes to their proper place among the effectives. Our view—already expressed—is that Mr Statham should have been declared duly elected on the flight of December 10. It is very hard indeed on Mr Munro, through no fault of his own, to be deprived of 69 votes that wore undubitably east for him, and the deprivation of which robs him of the scat. To him, therefore, there will bo extended a largo measure of public sympathy, not only from hie supporters, but from those who, apart from “color,” wish to see our parliamentary elections conducted fairly and squarely. Mr Statham himself is among tho latter, for it is au open secret that his own inclination is to resign and allow the electors of Dunedin Central another opportunity of saying who is the man of their choice. That is. certainly chivalrous, but it i.s not playing the party game, and the chances are that party considerations will prevent such an intention from being given effect to.. But if it should prove otherwise, Mr Statham will assuredly discover that friend and opponent alike will appreciate at its proper worth a resolution that docs credit to his heart and sense of right dealing. By allowing the electors to decide, instead of embarking on another legal contest, he will be saved much embarrassment and a great deal of heart-searching.
The Evening Star THURSDAY DECEMBER 24, 1914., Issue 15684, 24 December 1914
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