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Ballot Act

Volume 218: debated on Friday 27 March 1874

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(who had given Notice that he intended to call attention to the defects of the Ballot Act, and to move for a Select Committee to investigate the working of the Act, with power to suggest Amendments of the same) said: In bringing the subject before the House, I disclaim any idea of bringing it forward as a result of the last Election it being generally agreed that hon. Members opposite, who have been returned in a large majority, do truly represent the opinion of the constituencies. The question which I am about to submit to the consideration of the House has been anticipated two years ago, for at that time, when the Ballot Act became law, there was reason to believe that experience would reveal defects in the measure, then for the first time adopted, and that at some future period it would need revision. That it does need revision, inasmuch as experience has shown defects in the Act, few will now deny. Much correspondence has taken place in the public journals on the subject; several meetings of Returning Officers have been held; many points have been submitted by candidates and their agents to counsel for an opinion. There are, in short, several clauses of the Ballot Act, and several passages in the Schedules, which stand in much need cither of amendment or of official exposition. In a good many boroughs there were hitches of one kind or another, in the working of the Act on polling day. As to what papers should be counted, and what should be rejected for informality, there has been the greatest possible difference of opinion. As to the effect upon the election of that, which as far as my experience goes has been universal—namely, the difference between the number of papers in each box and the number returned by the presiding officer at the corresponding station, no one has the least idea. As to the manner in which the votes should be counted, and as to the effect upon the election of a non-compliance with the terms of the Act in that respect, there is a similar doubt; and although it may be said that these are questions which might be raised by Petition, and settled by the Judges, still it must be remembered that Petition is a costly process; that these points do not happen to have been raised by Petition on the present occasion; and if the amendment of the law is to be left to the decision of the Judges, another General Election will come upon us, without any of those difficulties having been removed. I am not here to go through the Act line by line, and to point out what appear to me to be its defects. I only wish to speak of those of which I and others have had practical experience; defects which having shown themselves once, may be expected to show themselves again. In the first place, I wish to call attention to a singular inconsistency in the Act itself. The Act lays it down that each ballot paper "shall be marked on both sides by an official mark." It says that the voter shall place it in the box, "after having shown to him" (the presiding officer) "the official mark at the back." The Act then goes on—

"Any ballot paper which has not on its back the official mark, or on which… anything, except the said number on the back, is written or marked, by which the voter can be identified, shall be void and not counted."
Of course, the identification of the voter is the very thing against which half of the provisions of the Act are intended as a safe-guard, and as for the non-counting of papers, not having the official mark, that is the only means of preventing what has been called in America the "Ballot stuffing" fraud. The showing the mark on the back of each paper to the presiding officer is the only means of preventing the "Tasmanian dodge," about which we talked so much in 1872. Yet I am prepared to state—and if the statement be questioned, I can prove by reference to time and place—that in dozens of elections in different parts of England, ballot papers were counted, which the Act says are void, and shall not be counted, inasmuch as they had the voter's number on the register, written on the back. They were advisedly counted, after arguments had been heard before the Returning Officers, and counted after argument, because the Act is inconsistent with itself, and directs those who are engaged in the counting by no means to look at the back of the papers. If it be asked how the backs wore seen, I would answer that the backs of a large number of papers wore seen by accident as the boxes were emptied; that in many cases the ink with which the voter's number on the register had been written in by the presiding officer showed clearly through the ballot paper. I have received an important letter with reference to an important county in the north of England—which I will not mention by name as a Petition has been presented against the late return—in which case I am informed that the sheriff, as Returning Officer, has actually caused the voter's number on the register to be printed both on the ballot paper and counterfoil, so that it would to perfectly easy to see how any vote had been given. That is a point which ought to be investigated by a Select Committee, and which in London alone affects hundreds. As for the second point I raised, I also am prepared to state, and if necessary to prove, that the number of papers in the box very rarely tallied exactly with the number returned by the presiding officer. Again, to raise a third point, the stamping of the official mark is a matter which is not a fit one to be investigated by an Election Judge. It is not a question of law, but one of fact and of machinery. It is one which, if it is to be investigated, ought to be investigated by a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and that it is one which must be looked into, I think is clear. When it is remembered that no one can deny that thousands of voters who thought they voted at the last Election were in reality disfranchised, from no fault of their own whatever, but only because much of the official machinery did not really stamp at all, it is clear, I say, that inquiry into this matter must take place. On the other hand, I could, if necessary, prove that thousands of papers were counted, which although they had some trace of an official mark upon them, had no such mark as was contemplated by the Act, because they had no such mark as would be sufficient to prevent fraud, and I have no hesitation in saying that if we go to another Election without inquiry and an amendment of the law, "ballot-box stuffing" will be carried out. It is not a sufficient answer to those who say that fraud will occur under the Ballot, to point out that there is no proof of fraud having occurred this time. The fact that this was the first General Election under the Ballot; that the election was sudden; that the scoundrels who exist in most constituencies had not had time to make themselves acquainted with, the provisions or the working of it; these are reasons why we may expect that if fraud be possible under the Act, and I say it is possible, it would not be perpetrated in 1874, but it would be perpetrated in 1879. The three points upon which I have at present spoken, are better raised, I think, before a Committee of the House of Commons than on Petition before an Election Judge. They are—the contradiction in the Act itself, about numbering or marking on the back of the paper; the precautious taken to see that no single paper is carried out of the booth, and that the number torn out of the book, and the number of papers put into the box, exactly tally; and, thirdly, the question of the machinery of stamping. The same is the case with three other points, as to two of which I have received a large number of letters from all parts of England, since my Notice was placed upon the Paper of the House. Those three points I will confine myself to merely mentioning, as matters of much importance which ought to be considered by the Committee, if one were granted, although there would be nothing gained by going into them now at length. The first of those points is the mode in which the counting of votes should take place. Under the Ballot Act, this seems to be left to the discretion of the Returning Officer. But I think that it should not be left to his discretion, but should be considered by a Committee of the House of Commons, and regulated by law. Two modes of counting were followed at the last Election. One of those modes was perfect; the other, which was followed in many most important towns, did not give any security to the candidates or the electors against blunders, or even against corruption, on the part of the clerks engaged in keeping a record of the votes, as called. The second of those points is that of the time which the Ballot Act allows to the Returning Officers for making their preparations. It seems certain that at such boroughs as Hackney, Marylebone, and the Tower Hamlets, the time is far too short. Returning Officers are not justified in incurring expense before the nomination of the candidates has taken place, yet in such boroughs as those of which I spoke, it is impossible to avoid a break-down if this is not done. In one of those boroughs the Returning Officer has to construct 70 stations with 300 separate secret compartments, and to find 70 competent presiding officers, and 70 competent clerks. Now to do all this within three days, and that at a time when there is a tremendous competition for carpenters, for presiding officers, and for all clerks who have the slightest pretensions to sobriety, is impossible. The third point is one closely connected with the second; it is that of the effect of the Ballot Act upon the law regarding the expenses of the Returning Officer. It is a point which it would not be useful for us to investigate at length in the whole House; but it is a point which deserves attention—which ought to be cleared of the difficulties which surround it, and which might be investigated by the Committee. There is also one isolated point standing wholly by itself, and unconnected with any of those I have named or am about to name, in respect to which also I have received very many letters from the smaller or agricultural boroughs. It is one which might be raised before the Committee with advantage, but I shall not dwell upon it, because I do not see my way to an avoidance of the difficulty. It is that of the abuses which undoubtedly surround the voting of "illiterates." I have received an elaborate letter from the mayor of one of the boroughs of which I spoke, which I will not read, but which might be tested by his examination as a witness before the Committee, in which he points out with great detail the collection by him of evidence to show that great numbers of illiterates were illiterates only for the day, and that they were as competent to read and write the day before and the day after the election, as they were wholly incompetent, according to their statement, on the day itself. In the large boroughs, where no attempt was made to find out how people voted, a very small proportion of the illiterate voters claimed their privilege. The great majority of them seemed to have preferred to vote by the light of nature, rather than by the hand of the presiding officer. In one ward of the borough that I represent, for instance, in which there are notoriously a great number of illiterate electors, only two voters had their papers marked for them by the presiding officer; but in some of the agricultural boroughs that I could name, the whole population of certain parishes voted as illiterates. But I name this point only because of the great number of letters that I have received upon it; and without wishing to go further into it at the present, I may add, as a connected point, that complaints have reached me from all parts of England that the paper on which the voter is made to vote shows the names through in such a way that the presiding officer can clearly see for whom he votes. Before finally leaving the points which I have already raised, I would crave leave to return for a moment to one of them. I spoke a short time since as to the provision which enacts that the mark on the back of the voting paper shall be shown to the presiding officer as being the only moans of preventing that which is known to the survivors of the last Parliament as the "Tasmanian dodge." If I may allude for a moment to my own experience, I attended the booths in four constituencies, being the only ones of those in which I was an elector, in which there happened to be a contest. Now, taking those four constituencies, of which two were counties and two were boroughs, I myself saw in the one case no less than four, and in each of the other cases one ballot paper brought out of the booth; yet one single paper brought out is sufficient to allow the perpetration of the "Tasmanian dodge," and also of such an imitation of the official mark as would pass muster at any counting of the votes not more rigid than were the countings at the last Election. This fact shows how vitally important it is that the number of papers issued at each station as returned by the presiding officer, and the number of papers found in his box, should exactly tally. I now leave the points which can only be well discussed before a Committee of the House of Commons, and I turn to one remaining point which could undoubtedly be with confidence raised before, and decided by an Election Judge, although I contend that it could be more conveniently decided by an amendment of the Ballot Act, after consideration by a Committee of the House of Commons. This is the subject of what is a mark by which the voter can be identified. It must, I think, be clear to all who have studied the Act, that the whole of the elaborate provisions about the non-identification of a voter can be easily evaded if you allow any mark to be made except a well-shaped St. Andrew's Cross, although I for one would go further and say that I do not think it is possible to prevent identification in any case. I certainly am of opinion that a puncture with a pencil or a mark of a dirty thumb, or a snip torn from a particular corner of the paper, may be sufficient for the identification of a voter, by arrangement previously made with a dishonest agent who is to attend at the counting of the votes. I am also of opinion that the elaboration of the provisions of the Act is from this point of view unnecessary; but if so, it ought not to be discarded—it ought to be re- pealed. If is idle to have the Schedules of the Ballot Act staring us in the face, full of minute and highly technical provisions—full therefore of traps for the unwary, likely to lead to great expenditure of money, and resulting in much uncertainty—if the whole of these fortifications can be turned and taken in the rear by the simplest and most evident of dodges. But on the other hand the provisions are there—they have not yet received judicial interpretation—they have been construed in two widely different ways at the late Election, and thousands of votes have been rejected by some Returning Officers, whilst in other constituencies Returning Officers have counted them. Each of us knows his own case best, and I may be permitted therefore, perhaps, to allude to the case of my own constituency—the more so as with us the counting or the rejection of these doubtful votes did not, as it happened, in any way affect the result as regards the relative position on the poll of myself and my honourable Colleague. When we came to classify the gentlemen who had made some mark except an ordinary St. Andrew's Cross—and we classified them under the general name of "duffers"—I am bound to admit that I had a majority of 34 of the duffers; but those who were worse still, and were placed by themselves in a packet under the name of "hopeless duffers," but who were finally counted, gave a clear majority to my honourable Colleague. Now, with us—and in many great constituencies where the Elections were presided over by some of the most learned and impartial Returning Officers—all papers were counted after argument, in which the intention of the voter was clearly shown. In other constituencies—I may say neighbouring constituencies—all papers were rejected which had upon them any kind of mark except the very mark which is indicated in the Schedule of the Act. There is a very strong case to be made each way. My own opinion is that the decision in my own constituency was wrong, and that whatever may be the right and wrong of the case, whatever may be the wisdom of changing the law—and I think that it would be wise that we should change it—whatever may be the hardship of the present state of the law, my view is that as the law does stand, it undoubtedly requires the rejection of every paper which has on it any mark such as may Lead to the identification of the voter. I think that all papers marked in any way except with a St. Andrew's Gross, placed on the square opposite the candidate's name, are bad, and for the simple reason that any other sign may lead to the identification of the voter. The danger undoubtedly is not a practical one in large boroughs and in counties; but the law was not made for large boroughs and for counties alone, and the question that we have to consider, and that a Select Committee ought to consider, is, in the first place, not what the law ought to be, but what it is. The danger against which the law is meant to guard is a practical danger in some constituencies. In Kinsale, where there were only two candidates, one of them only polled 47 votes. In Mallow, one candidate polled 86, one 64, one 27, and one only 9. In New Ross, where there wore only two candidates, one of the candidates polled 81. In Wexford, where there were only two, one of the candidates polled only 73. In Portarlington, the successful candidate polled only 76, and the defeated candidate polled only 52. It is clear that in such constituencies as these, the agent present at the counting of the votes, if he were a dishonest man—and the whole Act assumes that he may be a dishonest man—might recognize every voter by a system of marks which would be amply sufficient for his purpose. One of the most perfect examples that I can conceive of the complexity of the subject, and of the need for the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate it, was afforded by a letter which appeared in The Times, and which was addressed to that journal by the Town Clerk of Swansea. That gentleman said that his view was that any mark that clearly showed intention was a sufficient and a good mark, but that he had taken counsel's opinion upon the point, and that counsel's opinion was the other way—that he had consequently advised, as it was his duty to do, the Returning Officer of his borough to reject all papers having any mark but a St. Andrew's Cross, although this was contrary to his own opinion, and that all such papers were consequently rejected. There is one additional reason which I may name for strictly adhering to the terms of the Act; it is that by not doing so you are soon led into giving absurd decisions. For instance, we counted straight lines that were put in the squares instead of crosses; but we soon came to a paper which had both straight lines and crosses. This, upon our own principle, we ought to have counted and should have counted, if we had come to it first. We were, however, led by our previous decision that a straight line was a sufficient mark to reject this voting paper, on the ground that it had too many marks. For all those difficulties I say that there is but one safe cure, and that is an investigation by a Committee of the House of Commons, and amending legislation upon the subject. Of course, I do not know whether the Committee will be moved for by Government. I shall not move for it myself. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), and my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther), who have greatly fallen from their high estate, will perhaps be put up by their chief to argue that the Bill, which in principle and in detail they opposed with might and main, is the perfection of human wisdom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), the parent of the Act, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James), its godfather, will no doubt toll us that it is faultless; but I think the general sense of the House will be, that while the Act was well drawn, considering its complexity, no Act so important and so technical can be unworthy of careful revision.

said, he had no doubt that the House was desirous that the Ballot Act should be made as perfect as possible in their own interests and in the interests of the constituencies of the country generally, for it was very desirable that the loss of votes should be prevented, and accuracy in counting votes should be secured, and that steps should be taken to diminish as much as possible the expenses. It was only necessary for him to remind the House that not fewer than 12 hon. Members of the House had been returned by majorities of 10 and under, and that 24 hon. Members had obtained majorities of 20 or under. These facts were sufficient to show that precision and accuracy were of the utmost importance, and that the power of the Returning Officer, for good or bad reasons, to reject voting papers which had some peculiarity in them—without decision or authority to guide him—was a subject which deserved consideration. In reference to the loss of votes, he might say that at the late Election for Galway, out of a total of 1,100 votes, no fewer than 190 were rejected by the Returning Officer. The Returning Officer, in fact, possessed enormous powers, and much depended, not only on his honesty and integrity, but upon his intelligence and his accurate reading of the provisions of the Act. That was a point on which both sides of the House, and both large and small constituencies, were equally interested, and it was highly expedient, in order to secure the purity of our electoral system, that steps should be taken to obtain uniformity of procedure at elections, for under the present mode of taking the Ballot there was every inducement held out to partizan Returning Officers or their clerks to act improperly. Thus in a county constituency which should be nameless, an hon. Friend of his who had been elected by a small majority of 53 or 54 in 1868, was returned by a large majority in 1874. At the recent Election one of the friends of the candidate who was present at the counting of the votes had a suspicion that one of the clerks who was entering the number of votes in a book was manipulating the counting—that was to say, he was omitting a batch of 30 votes in favour of the candidate in question. On being challenged with the offence the clerk expressed great indignation at his honour being so assailed; but on the votes being compared with the book in which he was entering the number of voters, it was found that not one but two batches of 30 votes in favour of the particular candidate had boon omitted. It might be said that that was a fault on the part of a certain clerk, and that this was after all a mere honest mistake, and not a fault of the system; but when it was recollected how various were the modes of counting the votes, some of them being of the loosest character, and how impossible it was in very large constituencies that the candidates should exercise proper supervision over the counting, it appeared to him that the Government should at their own time, and under circumstances in which they would be able to secure a fair and impartial consideration of the points of detail, refer the whole matter to a Select Committee. His own constituency being a small one, every vote had been counted under the supervision of the candidates themselves; but in large constituencies such scenes had been witnessed as seven or eight sets of persons being engaged in the same room in counting the votes, the names of the candidates and the votes given on each ballot paper being shouted out in such a way as must almost inevitably lead to confusion and mistakes. A trifling mistake in the number of the votes given for a particular candidate might be of the gravest importance, because in many of our largest constituencies hon. Members had been returned by the morely nominal majorities of 50, 100, or 200. Having had personal experience twice of a contested election under the Ballot, he had taken some little trouble to inquire into the working of the present system, and he had come to the conclusion that it was for the interest of all hon. Members, whether in existence or in posse, that the defects in it should be removed. What might be the determination of the House on the subject of the Ballot when its term of eight years had expired it was impossible to pro-judge; but it was clear that those who had opposed it for so long might be pleased that they had at length accepted it, while those who had urged its adoption for so many years had found that it had brought destruction of the party which had. carried it into law. Thus that which was to have caused the entire destruction of the Conservative party had had exactly the opposite effect, and it was remarkable that, under the Ballot, where the Conservative Party were strong before they were stronger now, and that where the Liberal Party were strong before they now found their strength diminished. He made these remarks not for the purpose of rousing party feeling, but to point out that the question might be considered without regard to its bearing on either party, and merely with the view of making the mechanical operation of voting safe for both the candidates and their constituents. One word as to Returning Officers' expenses. It would ill become him, and would be contrary to his experience of the class of persons who so usefully filled those positions, if he were to suggest that there was any designed impropriety in the charges made by those officers; but anything more unsatisfactory than the present system he could not conceive. The honest Returning Officer in a largo constituency was obliged to work night and day without receiving the smallest remuneration for his labour, unless it took the form of an honorarium from the winning, or perhaps all the candidates. Thus the Returning Officer for Marylebone had had to work for a week and a-half, night and day, at the last General Election, during which time he was unable to attend to his business, and all Returning Officers were obliged to work in a similar manner if they wished to escape the odium which had fallen upon the Returning Officer of another of the great metropolitan boroughs. It was most unsatisfactory when the Returning Officer had to put down a fee for himself, and it was equally unsatisfactory when he had to accept that as a gift which he ought to receive as the legitimate reward of his labour; and besides, men who had to give up days of valuable professional time ought not to be called upon to discharge the duties upon the chance of receiving an honorarium from the candidates who went to the poll. In other cases he had heard that monstrous charges had been made in small boroughs, and in one instance where the candidate, who was called a Conservative working-man's candidate, had refused to pay the Returning Officer the sum of £50, the Returning Officer had refused to allow him to be nominated, and the noble Lord who was the other candidate was returned as unopposed, the consequence being that a Petition had been presented on behalf of the rejected candidate. There were, he believed, numbers of cases of that character which were a scandal and a discredit to the law. Another thing he complained of was that the first set of candidates should be compelled to pay for the ballot boxes, which would suffice for their own constituencies for the next 20 or 30 years. In some instances candidates had merely hired the boxes, but the hire was probably more expensive than the purchase of them would have been. He felt, however, that under existing circumstances it would be idle to press these matters more upon the Government than the facts would press themselves. If the facts which had been already maintained, and others which could be supplied by hon. Members on both sides' were not sufficient to induce the Government on their own authority to take this matter up, and to bring it at some convenient time before the House, no arguments would be of the slightest avail. For his own part, he had perfect confidence that the right hon. Gentleman the Homo Secretary would do all that was discreet with reference to the main interests of the country on the subject, and he was satisfied that any measure that might be proposed would receive the careful attention of the Select Committee of that House to which it might be referred.

said, that a considerable portion of the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) referred to the putting marks on the ballot papers, which necessitated the Returning Officers rejecting them; but how could the House go into an inquiry upon that subject now when it was well known there wore several hon. Members against whom Petitions were pending on that very ground. He would draw attention to the fact, that a double return had been made from Athlone, and the question as to who was the properly elected Member would depend upon whether the Returning Officer had properly or improperly rejected certain of the voting papers. A similar state of things existed in Leitrim county, where a Petition was pending, in consequence of marks having been put on the ballot papers by the presiding officer at one of the booths. It was impossible for the House to grant a Committee at the present moment; but after the Election Petitions had been tried, and the House had obtained from the Judges a clear declaration of the law, it would be desirable to appoint a Committee to consider what amendments were necessary. It had been his own intention to bring this matter before the House in consequence of what occurred at an election last May for the county of Tyrone, at which Mr. Macartney was an unsuccessful candidate. Mr. Macartney petitioned against the return, and Mr. Justice Fitzgerald was deputed to try it. The Petition was withdrawn before trial, and Mr. Justice Fitzgerald made a Report in which he raised the point whether an election would be void in a case where the Returning Officer had marked on the back of the voting paper the number of the voter on the register, thereby affording a means by which he could be identified. Mr. Justice Fitzgerald thought it his duty to report the matter specially, and added that it was doubtful whether the Act provided an adequate remedy for such cases. If it were found that such an act. on the part of the Returning Officer disqualified the voter, it would give him the power of disfranchising many of the constituency.

said, that whenever a Committee was appointed it would be necessary to consider the question of the expenses of Returning Officers, who could not proceed for their recovery against the persons nominating the candidates, but only against those who went to the poll. Consequently there was no limit to the introduction of "bogus" candidates, as it was open to any ten men to put up a man of straw as a candidate, and thereby cause all the expenses of a contest without the slightest risk on their own part. The question of the expenses charged by Returning Officers for themselves was also deserving of attention.

said, he must remind the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), that the House was aware at the time of the passing of the Ballot Act that there was no alteration in the law as regarded the power of nominations in the direction in which he appeared to suppose that there should have been; but a candidate must now be nominated by 10 persons, whereas formerly he could be nominated by two. There was therefore now no greater chance of bogus nominations than there was then. He hoped that the hon. Gentleman who had brought the subject forward would not think, and that no hon. Gentleman in the House would suppose, that because he (Mr. W. E. Forster) had charge of the Bill which was passed, he wished in any way to prevent an inquiry into its operation. He thought the time was coming when it would be really desirable to review the operations of the Act, and to find out exactly what had been the results; but the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary two days ago, anticipating that debate—namely, that they ought to wait for the reports of the Judges—seemed to him (Mr. W. E. Forster) to be almost irresistible, and for this reason, that it was possible that the Judges might themselves make suggestions for the improvement of the law. He thought it was possible that there might be some vagueness in the Act which might cause some difficulty in its interpretation, but if so the fault lay with the House, and perhaps still more with himself, as having had charge of the Act. But, on the other hand, they must recollect that scarcely any Act had ever passed without some doubt as to its interpretation, and he did not think the House would underrate the difficulties with regard to the passing of such an Act. It was a perfectly new machinery of great complication and exceeding difficulty, and it would be most unreasonable to expect that at once all the Returning Officers would carry it out in exactly the same way. The Judges, however, in considering the Petitions would doubtless arrive at some general interpretation, and he could not help thinking that many of the objections which his hon. Friend had started would be removed by the result of those Petitions, and that the Judges would settle the points in time for future elections, especially that point which was probably the most important that had been brought forward—namely, the question whether the mark must be a cross or not. His own opinion remained, as it was at the time of the passing of the Act. He considered the cross was placed in the Schedule as a hint for guidance, but not as a positive enactment, but if the Judges decided that the mark must be made in the actual form of the cross, he thought the House would have ground for considering whether that decision should remain the law of the land. On the other hand, if they came to a different decision, that result would not follow in the future which the hon. Baronet deplored—namely, that a great many votes would be struck off. There was one fact which was certainly new to his mind, which was highly objectionable, and which, if proved, would in his opinion be sufficient ground for the House considering the subject, and that was the use of transparent ballot papers. He had not before heard of a case of the kind, but the House must be guided by facts which were in evidence, and not by what might happen. It would be impossible for the House to guard in theory against every combination of dishonesty, fraud, and cleverness, and they must have some practical evil in view before they attempted any fresh legislation. Then, again, the House would know a great deal more about the facts when they knew the result of the Petitions. The hon. Member seemed to suppose that the number of Petitions was no test as to the working of the Ballot Act, but to that opinion he could not assent. It was encouraging to know that although the last General Election introduced a mode of voting which was new to candidates, agents, and voters, the number of Election Petitions was far less than had heretofore been usual after a General Election. That showed that the evils which might exist were not, at any rate, so great as to call for immediate and hasty legislation. There was little doubt, on the other hand, that when the Petitions were decided, points would have arisen which might very fairly be considered. The House would remember that the question relating to the expenses of Returning Officers was discussed, and that the House determined to leave the candidates who went to the poll to bear the expenses of the election. The result had been to confirm him in the opinion he then shared with others, and which he still held, that these difficulties would continue until the constituencies themselves bore the necessary expenses of elections.