Confessions of a former electoral canvasser

Anorak canvassers – this is your thread

‘This’ is a very politicised place but for those that think electoral canvasses are a bit random here’s my run down on how to do it (only 2 1/2 parties even get close)

You should have a ‘marked register’ showing what every person canvassed said on the doorstep last time – a definite vote, a possible, a no chance.

That old register can then be marked further against a register provided post count by the electoral office to check who didn’t get out to vote.

Then compare your old marked register with the new one and you can get a list of people registered that previously declared an intention to vote for you, those that may, those that won’t, additions since last time and even people that said they would but didn’t turn up.

You can provide that information to canvassers so they tailor the message; get out and vote, why you should vote for us, ignore the door or ‘where the feck where you last time?’ (they will turn up if you show you know they didn’t bother before).

You again mark them on your register as voters, possibles or no chance.

You filter the possibles – then revisit and try to convert.

On election day you go out and target every voter that declared an intention to vote for you. Motivate, ignore those that said they weren’t voting for you (some one that cares can remind them).

If you are mad as fuck you can put people in/outside polling stations marking off people as they vote and then (illegally?) attempt to filter out information to others who will visit your declared voters that haven’t turned up.

Alternatively, you can play knock the doors and waste your time for 6 weeks while others be a bit professional.

(much of the above is either against the law or requires registration with the Data Protection folks)


  • sdelaneys

    And don’t forget what John B. Keane said some years ago: ‘The smell of stale porter on the breath of canvassers is strictly ruled out but the smell of fresh whiskey is a different matter as you may have been given a half one at the previous house.’

  • sdelaneys

    Keane also said that the ideal canvassing team would include the candidate and his or her partner, two solid, solemn and soberly dressed citizens and a joker who would see them safely over any awkward situations.

    Mind you some of the current crop of candidates are joker enough.

  • TwilightoftheProds


    Is that part of the process known as the ‘Torrent’ strategy? I’ve seen it mentioned several times by Shinners (think Sheena Campbell pulled it together) but have never had a clue what it involved.

  • medillen

    Much improved and more sophisticated since Mark left. His info is old hat.

  • Mark McGregor


    SF may have finessed it a bit but I’m more hoping the Tories (UUP) will tell us about their new shit hot system.

  • Or you could just fiddle the votes, like that has never happened before. Postal voting must be a gift…

  • Mark McGregor


    Postal voting is limited in the north and the masters of it are the Orange Order, to a lesser extent SF in the far West.

    The OO are the kings of the postal and proxy.

  • Naturally the biggest fiddlers would be important, I did not give a preference, but only a fool denies it happens. Lets just hope the ‘best’ nationalists win.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mark, there will probably be well over 2,000 postal voters in F&ST, and about 200 in East Belfast, during the Euro Elections the Torys send over a few advisors to educate the UUP members about postal & proxy votes, I think it was they who got educated, I have heard stories of suspicious behaviour yrs ago, but the system is that tight now very little get through, one woman told us she was cautioned by the Police because EONI had worked out she had signed the postal application for her daughter at university.
    Getting my first real experience of canvasing these days and have to say having just the one Unionist candidate makes things a lot lot easier!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Im sure a lot of what goes on IS a breach of Data Protection laws but frankly its all a bit technical.
    The first time I ever voted (June 1970) I was challenged by the guy at the desk. He didnt pursue it….prolly because I was 18 and 1 month…….and maybe looked 17 and 11 months.
    Electoral abuse is really on two levels. In the olden days it was about not depriving the recently deceased of their right to vote. No harm done. Stealing a vote and getting the living or dead to vote the wrong way was always viewed as bad form.
    Im sure older hands have seen a few odd things. How many members of a kick the Pope band would YOU challenge? Or the people who invite challenge and compensation (pretend panic when asked for a voting card and READING their own name as if theyd never seen it before/

    Sadly Id have to report that I have no real knowledge of the Orange Order being experts but if a Political Party can find someone….a care worker….inside an Old Peoples Home, its gold dust….when postal votes come round.
    Just how much is “pressure” and how much is “encouragement” well thats speculation.

    Frankly I prefer the kinda canvassing that Mr McGregor details to the sharp suited yuppies with their blackberry thingys.

  • Mark McGregor


    I don’t see how your ‘first real experience’ is a ‘lot easier’.

    I just wish I was out there.

  • Mark McGregor

    Mr McGregor’ some pretend ultra-Unionists try really hard and they just look like utter tools.

    Mr McGregor’ – aye, feck away aff.

  • Drumlin Rock

    its late, meant to say “a lot easier than I expected”.

    But yeah i’m enjoying the buzz atm. and have to say Rodney is a great candidate on the doors, charming but not smarmy, it is a bit strange working with the DUP, but so far only some very minor friction and a lot of hard work from both teams.

  • Mark McGregor

    He’s a good candidate. I’ve been desperate to know how the UUP, TUV and DUP members are dealing with the canvass though.

    Sharing lists? Splitting areas? Working together?

    Canvass together or apart?

  • Drumlin Rock

    We split areas for putting up the posters, but the canvasing is done together, there was a little bit of DUP go up one side of the street and the UUP up the other, but that has mainly disappeared now and we actually try to mix the groups to get the message across he is backed by both. The main thing in South Tyrone is getting people to meet Rodney as he is not know up this end at all (it is a very streched out constituency with even part of it being in Co. Armagh) so he is being dragged down virtually every street, so far he has lost half a stone in weight! and 2 weeks to go yet.
    Not sure of any TUV involvement atm. but I might be just persuming they are DUP members. From a practical point of view basically having a double team means more ground can be covered, and both I suspect and trying to keep as many involved as possible so they aren’t shown up by the other party.

  • Mark McGregor

    Cheers. Thats probably the most informative comment of the election on Slugger so far.

  • You mean like former DUP mayor of Coleraine Dessie Stewart who was convicted of electoral fraud?

  • steve white

    so should be able to apply for the data politcal parties hoold on us via the data commissioner

    mark either whistleblow officially or shut up boasting about doing illegal things for politcal parties!

  • Drumlin Rock

    Steve, think the only dodgey thing Mark mentioned was filtering out the names of those who havnt voted on polling day, as he said usually too risky and more hassle than its worth probably. So far as I can see the system is extremely tight these days, probably too tight and some people are disenfranchised due to the very tight window to apply for postal votes this time.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Ulick,I looked it up, was pretty disgusting stealing votes from a nursing home, and stupid, although makes you think if you have a relative in a home would a proxy be better than a postal?

  • From experience in England it was much the same, only today you can add layers of tele canvassing and hard mailing.

  • Candidates losing weight seems to be a recurring theme. Heard the same thing from one on Monday night.

  • sdelaneys

    (it is a very streched out constituency with even part of it being in Co. Armagh) D R.

    Out of curiosity which bit of Armagh is that?

  • sdelaneys

    On the question of how tight the system is I think it’s not that tight as there are hundreds of people on the register in sth Armagh who actually live in Louth or Monaghan. There are also individuals who are down in different properties. Postal votes or proxies are a godsend for those situations and, Mark, postal voting, both honest and,more often, dishonest was always a big plus down here too.

  • Oracle

    “so far he has lost half a stone in weight! and 2 weeks to go yet.”

    Well it’s easy to see Gildernew hasn’t been doing much canvassing then.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Alot of them probably are legitimate votes sdelaneys, so long as they have a NI number for the UK, ie. even ex pats living in Spain can vote so far as I know. I’m not sure about the different properties thing but I assume you can only have one NI number which should filter out most of those, but would love to know if that isn’t the case, knowing Northern Ireland and elections I’m sure there are cases of electoral fraud, but at present I cant come up with many way it can be did nowadays.

  • Drumlin Rock

    there are about 20 townlands around the Peatlands Park area, if your on the M1 going west it is from the second bridge after the Briches junction, up untill you cross the Blackwater at Verners Bridge, think its about 400 voters, mostly Unionist voters.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Reading Ross Husseys facebook page he is paying the price for the extra luggage too!

  • John East Belfast


    You should have a ‘marked register’ showing what every person canvassed said on the doorstep last time – a definite vote, a possible, a no chance…………

    Alternatively, you can play knock the doors and waste your time for 6 weeks while others be a bit professional.”

    Is that not a bit of a contradiction ??

    A lot of that data gathering may be of use for post election analysis and/or future elctions but I still think the best bet is to kncok somebody’s door and ask them for their vote and ask them if they have any queries about your party’s policy.

    This is especially true in constituencies where there is a real fight on which this time around is pretty much everywhere

  • John O’Connell

    I don’t think any party has the resources to follow your model, Mark. Anyway, I wouldn’t believe a word of what people tell you on ther doorstep. The only thing that matters is the count.

  • medillen

    Certainly the SDLP in Derry does not, eh John?

  • Mark,

    If the Orange Order are the masters of the postal proxy vote can you let me know who the candidates are for the Orange Order Party? Though i must admit i have never heard of the Party before now. I have heard of the UUP, DUP, TUV, UKUP, NIUP, PUP, UDP and the odd independent, but never heard of the Orange Order Party.

    Political Parties have used the postal/proxy system, but i find it quite mischievous of you to say the OO do it.

    Members of the OO do stand but are in different parties, vieing for votes from the same voting pool.

  • Granni Trixie

    My current experience in South and East Belfast suggest that, more than previously, people are actually reading the literature to help them make up their minds eg one women thanked me for the new Alliance literature saying “I thought that the leaflet I got in the post from you didnt tell me enough but you have much more in this leaflet”.

    Unfortunately many people say they will not bother voting, so getting out the vote is likely to be a determining factor. .

  • John,

    I think that when Mark says “you can play knock the doors”, he means you can just go from door to door delivering leaflets / introducing the candidate without gathering or recording any useful data. I share Mark’s astonishment that this still happens.

  • Nice one – you had me fooled for a minute until I realised you were being ironic!

  • sdelaneys

    Today’s Newry Democrat carries the story about a 66 year old man from Newtownhamilton being charged with ten counts of electoral fraud between 2003 and 2009 and a 33 year old woman from Cullyhanna on one charge. Both are Sinn féiners. This follows a number of arrests late last year which were met by howls of ‘political policing’ from Sinn Féin. If anyone believes that that is the only fraud taking place in the elections they need their heads examined.