About British TV/Elections, circa 70s, 80s

I’ve seen an episode of Monty Python recently that reminded me of an episode of Blackadder (3rd season). In both, there were TV announcers at the site of what I would assume is an election of an MP, sort of calling the election like sports announcers, and sort of like what we get here (US) on a major election night.

In my area of the US, most local elections are not called like that.

One of the things that I noticed is that both had “Silly Parties” - candidates dressed silly and looking silly. Is the Blackadder a tribute to the Monty Python? Or is this a reference to some BBC thing I don’t understand the reference to?

In the 80’s a party called the Monster Raving Loonies used to field a candidate at many by-elections. This poor soul would show up dressed in a silly costume and completely fail to get his deposit back.

Yes, we have silly parties. We also have the Swingometer.

British elections work in a fundamentally different way to American ones. You have voting machines so you can have instant results; we have paper ballots which only get counted after polling has closed. In a General Election, there’s usually a race to be the first to declare results. And it can be fun to stay up all night and watch the results come in and see which reptilian gets booted. I stayed up all night for the last election, which was a foregone conclusion but an interesting experience nonetheless. I’ve stayed up until 01:00 or later on previous elections, too.

And did I mention that we have the Swingometer? Peter Snow’s antics were fun, especially with a few cans of cider inside me.

Silly candidates are real. In the recent by-election for Haltemprice & Howden, the parties represented included the Miss Great Britain Party, the Make Politicians History Party, and the Monster Raving Loony Party. The latter is an established institution, and had candidates standing in 24 constituencies in 1997 (I can’t find the equivalent figure for more recent elections).

At a general election, each individual consistuency’s results are read out publicly at the location of the count for that seat, in the way represented in those TV shows. Here’s Tony Blair holding on to his own seat in the election which made him PM - immediately after this, in the early hours of the morning, he flew to London to be at the party’s HQ and then Downing Street.

Parliamentary election results are declared in this way; usually in the small hours of the morning when all concerned are dozy with lack of sleep. Local [town] ones are much more low key. If it’s a by-election [trans: special election] media interest may be feverish, or non-existent depending on how much of a challenge the sitting party is facing.
Most TV comedians of recent times acknowledge some sort of debt to Python

It should also be noted that the sketches deal with by-elections, i.e. an election held in only one constituency which has recently become vacant. In these elections, the particular constituency gets all the media attention, whereas media coverage of general elections would have to deal with the entire country and consequently would not have the resources to cover local events in depth.

I assume that it would be more difficult (and expensive) in the US for Silly Parties to run. Have there been any instances? I seem to recall the Yippies put a pig up for President in the 60s but I don’t know if they actually officially entered it as a candidate. (Pity, it could well have done a better job than Nixon if it had won!)

In a GE, the results of many constituencies still get shown on TV, so they get their 5 seconds (I’m being generous here) of national attention.

Canada used to have the Rhinoceros Party and it looks like they may be trying to make a comeback.

Election laws in the US make it very difficult for any third party to get on the ballot. It can be done, but you need to do a lot of organization and groundwork. The purpose of the laws was to reduce the threats to the Republicans and Democrats, but its unintended effect is to make it difficult for a silly party to be on the ballot.

BTW, the Monty Python skit was about a general election, while the Blackadder one was for a by-election.

Also, vote counting in the US isn’t much different than in other countries: ballots aren’t counted until the vote is over and AFAIK, they are not transmitted electronically. Machines tend to count the ballots (for punch cards) or election officials take down the numbers (for voting machines). It can take until late into the morning to get a result in a close election, and at the time of the skits, exit polls were still new.

Quartz writes:

> British elections work in a fundamentally different way to American ones. You
> have voting machines so you can have instant results; we have paper ballots
> which only get counted after polling has closed.

I may misunderstand what you’re saying, but in American elections no results are available till the polls are closed in the entire state. There’s no way to get anything from a voting machine until voting is over. Only at that point can the totals be taken from each machine. The results are then released to the press and (assuming it’s a state or federal election) called into the state office to be totaled. It appears to me that counting ballots isn’t really much more time than getting the total from a machine.

Also, people are asking if minor party candidates run in elections in the U.S. Yes, in general it’s possible, although it takes some work to get enough names on a petition. Occasionally such candidates are of the silly party type. It’s necessary to get your name on the ballot with a separate petition in each state that you want to run in, and the rules are different for each state. Such candidates tend to get ignored during the election campaign and are only announced in the results by the news media if they have a significant percentage of the vote (perhaps something like more than 1%). They are announced in the official totals from the state office (or the local office if they are running for a local office), but almost nobody gets their information from the official announcements, just from the news.

I think you may be: as I understand it, in America, because you use machines, the results of an election are pretty much known 15 minutes after the polls close. Here in the U.K., we vote with paper ballots, so when the polls close, the ballot boxes are sealed, transported to where they are counted, then the paper ballots are counted by hand. This takes quite some time. Hence one can enjoyably stay up all night watching the results for each constituency. The next General Election promises to be particularly interesting.

Some localities and some states in the U.S. use paper ballots. That’s what the delay in determining the result of the 2000 presidential election was all about. The difference between the 15 minutes to get the results from a machine and the 2 hours (approximately) to get the results from paper ballots (for most voting locations in the U.S.) isn’t really that much. All the results have to be called in from each voting location to the state office anyway and totalled. It’s generally several hours before the results can be determined.

The delay in the 2000 election was because some locations in Florida used weird ballots that were hard to figure out. They were counted once and the results sent in within a couple of hours. Because the totals were close in Florida, there was a recount in which a decision had to be made for each ballot whether it was validly recorded.

Actually, it’s even more complicated in the U.S. than a distinction between paper ballots and machines. Some places use strictly machines. Some places use strictly paper ballots. Some places use machines that produce paper ballots that are counted at the end.

The Monster Raving Looney Party

Oh, they do this in Germany too, and after the election, the newspapers will usually print detailed data on voter turnouts and results for all the constituencies in the country. Not that this information really matters, though - our voting system is a combination of single-member constituencies and proportional representation, so the numerical composition of the parliament does not depend on the results in the constituencies.

£500 and ten signatures is all you need to get on the ballot for a seat in the Commons.

Here’s a previous thread about “wacky” parties in the UK

Alas, my fellow pig (Pigasus was his name) never got on the ballot.

We’ve had nutbag parties on the ballot in the US (the LaRouchites being the most obvious example), but I can’t think of any deliberately silly parties. Ballot access laws are a barrier, but not an insurmountable one in all jurisdictions, so I’m not sure why not. It just doesn’t seem to be part of the culture here.

Actual vote counts, for local, state, or national elections, are never known 15 minutes after the polls close. It always takes hours, and sometimes days, to add up the ballots.

What may be confusing you is that networks report the results of their exit polls immediately after the polls close. If the polls obviously favor one candidate, they’ll declare that candidate the winner. If not, they say the race is too close to call until some real vote totals from key precincts verify the poll numbers.

Actual numbers are far more difficult to tally in the U.S. because the country is divided up into hundreds of thousands of precincts. Different sets of precincts make up the bewildering variety of offices we have. In one election you can be voting for city mayor, city council, city school board, city judge, city sheriff, county legislature, county executive, county judge, district judge, state senator, state representative, state governor, state comptroller, state attorney general, federal House representative, federal Senator, and president, along with several special district candidates for specialized offices like land use or forestry representative. Each of these votes have to go to a different overall tally comprised of other precincts voting for as many, but a different set of, offices.

Except for a few tiny villages, counting votes is an elaborate and time-consuming process that is subject that any number of mistakes - adding errors, copying errors, transcription errors, duplication, omission, you name it. So almost all votes are counted, re-counted, doublechecked, and re-re-counted.

Fifteen minute totals are unheard of.

the deposit used to be £150 until quite recently - it was only introduced in 1918 to stop soldiers discharging themselves from the army prematurely being standing for Parliament .