It was found at Manchester that the voting was considerably more rapid, and therefore less expensive, than under the old system; that only 80 cards out of 11,475 were rejected as informal; and that, the representatives of candidates being present to check false statements of identity, and the public outside being debarred from receiving information what voters had voted, the ballot rather decreased the risk of personation. At Manchester the cards were not numbered consecutively, as in Victoria, so that (assuming the officials to be free from corruption) no scrutiny could have detected by whom particular votes were given. At Stafford the returning-officer stamped each card before giving it to the voter, the die of the stamp having been finished only on the morning of the election. By this means the possibility was excluded of what was known as "the Tasmanian Dodge," by which a corrupt voter gave to the returning-officer, or placed in the box, a blank non-official ticket, and carried out from the booth his official card, which a corrupt agent then marked for his candidate, and gave so marked to corrupt voter No. 2 (before he entered the booth) on condition that he also would bring out his official card, and so on ad libitum; the agent thus obtaining a security for his bribe, unless the corrupt voter chose to disfranchise himself by making further marks on the card.
In 1872 W. E. Forster's Ballot Act introduced the ballot in all parliamentary and municipal elections, except parliamentary elections for universities; and the code of procedure prescribed by the act was adopted by the Scottish Education Board in the first School Board election (1873) under the Education (Scotland) Act 1872. The Ballot Act not only abolished public nominations of candidates, but dealt with the offence of personation and the expenses of elections.
As practised in the United Kingdom, a white paper is used on which the names of the candidates are printed in alphabetical order, the voter filling up with a X the blank on the right-hand opposite the name he votes for. The paper, before being given out, is marked by the presiding-officer on both sides with an official stamp, which is kept secret, and cannot be used for a second election within seven years. The paper is marked on the back with the same number as the counterfoil of the paper which remains with the officer. This counterfoil is also marked with the voter's number on the register, so that the vote may be identified on a scrutiny; and a mark on the register shows that the voter has received a ballot-paper. The voter folds up the paper so as to conceal his mark, but to show the stamp to the officer, and deposits it in the box, which is locked and sealed, and so constructed that papers cannot be withdrawn without unlocking it. Papers inadvertently spoiled by the voters may be exchanged, the officer preserving separately the spoiled papers.
If a voter is incapacitated from blindness, or other physical cause, or makes before the officer a declaration of inability to read, or when the poll is on a Saturday declares himself a Jew, the officer causes the paper to be marked as the voter directs, and keeps a record of the transaction. A voter who claims to vote after another has voted in respect of the same qualification, obtains a (green) paper which is not placed in the box, but preserved apart as a "tendered" paper. He must, however, declare his identity and that he has not already voted. The presiding-officer at the close of the poll has to account to the returning-officer for the papers entrusted to him, the number being made up by - (1) papers in the box, (2) spoiled papers, (3) unused papers and (4) tendered papers. During the voting (for which schoolrooms and other public rooms are available, and for which a separate compartment must be provided for every 150 electors entitled to vote at a station) agents of candidates are allowed to be present in the polling-station, but they, as well as the officials, are sworn to secrecy as regards who have voted, and for whom; and they are prohibited from interfering with the voter, inducing him to show his vote, or attempting to ascertain the number on the back of the paper.
These agents are also present with the returning-officer when he counts the papers and the votes, rejecting those papers - (1) which want the official mark on the back; (2) on which votes are given for more candidates than the voter is entitled to vote for; (3) on which anything except the number on the back is marked or written by which the voter can be identified; (4) which are unmarked, or so marked that it is uncertain for whom the vote is given. The counted and rejected papers, and also the "tendered" papers, counterfoils and marked register (which have not been opened), are, in parliamentary elections, transmitted by the returning officer to the clerk of the crown in chancery in England, or the sheriff-clerk in Scotland, who destroys them at the end of one year, unless otherwise directed by an order of the House of Commons, or of some court having jurisdiction in election petitions. Such petitions either simply dispute the accuracy of the return on the ground of miscounting, or wrongous rejection or wrongous admission of papers, in which case the court examines the counted and rejected papers; or make allegations of corruption, etc. on which it may be necessary to refer to the marked counterfoils and ascertain how bribed voters have voted.
Since the elections of 1874 much discontent has been expressed, because judges have rejected papers with trifling (perhaps accidental) marks other than the X upon them, and because elections have been lost through the failure of the officer to stamp the papers. For this purpose the use has been suggested of a perforating instead of an embossing stamp, while a dark-ground paper with white voting-spaces would make misplaced votes impossible.
The Ballot Act introduced several new offences, such as forging of papers or fraudulently defacing or destroying a paper or the official mark; supplying a paper without due authority; fraudulently putting into the box a non-official paper; fraudulently taking a paper out of the station without due authority; destroying, taking, opening or otherwise interfering with a box or packet of papers then in use for election purposes. These offences and attempts to commit them are punishable in the case of officers and clerks with imprisonment for two years, with or without hard labour. In other cases the term of imprisonment is six months.
The ballot was long criticized as leading to universal hypocrisy and deception; and Sydney Smith spoke of "voters, in dominos, going to the poll in sedan-chairs with closely-drawn curtains." The observed effect of a secret ballot has been, however, gradually to exterminate undue influence. The alarm of "the confessional" seems to be unfounded, as a Catholic penitent is not bound to confess his vote, and if he did so, it would be a crime in the confessor to divulge it.