No evidence of pencil-related vote tampering in the 2024 London mayoral election

By: Siri Christiansen
May 10 2024

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No evidence of pencil-related vote tampering in the 2024 London mayoral election

Source: Facebook/Screenshot (Modified by Logically Facts)


The Verdict False

Pencils are commonly used in the counting process and do not indicate vote tampering.

Claim ID a6272bfe

The claim

A screenshot from a Sky News segment is going viral online as social media users claim it provides evidence of vote tampering during the counting process. 

The screenshot shows a vote counter using a pencil next to a stack of yellow ballots. A text transposed on the screenshot says: "Why has this woman got a pencil when she should be counting the mayor ballet slips in Manchester?"

This image has since been used in the context of the London mayoral election to explain why Sadiq Khan won an unprecedented third term as Mayor. 

"For ALL of the idiots who BLAMED Londoners the other day. Here is evidence of a vote counter (foreign heritage) using a pencil to "rub out" the votes that Londoners had originally placed," one Facebook user claims.

"This very very, wrong. Who is this woman and why is a pencil out when it shouldn't be needed ffs !! Seems the rumors of cheating may well be true!! This fkn country gets more like N.Korea every day!!" one X user wrote.

In fact

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission, the independent body overseeing elections in the U.K., told Logically Facts that it is normal for vote counters to use pencils in the counting process. 

"Supervisors will have pencils to tally up the totals, and if there are multi-seat wards, the counters may use pencils as part of the counting process," the spokesperson said. "The use of pencils by voters or counters does not in itself increase the likelihood of electoral fraud – while pencil marks can be rubbed out, similarly, pen marks can be crossed out."

Additionally, the spokesperson highlighted that there are measures in place at the count to prevent interference. The verification and counting of ballot papers is done in the open with many people watching, as candidates, agents, and independent observers are entitled to unrestricted views of the count.

Joe Twyman, co-founder and director of the public opinion consultancy Deltapoll, also disagreed that the Sky News screenshot provides tangible evidence of vote tampering.

"Definitely not," he told Logically Facts. "It is evidence of writing things down – which I imagine happens quite a lot [during vote counting]."

Skepticism over the use of standard pencils in polling stations appeared in the U.K. during the 2019 European election as well as during the 2016 Brexit referendum, people claimed that pencil marks on ballots could be erased by biased vote counters and encouraged Leave voters to use pens under the hashtag #usepens. However, pens are – ironically – associated with a greater risk of getting your vote rejected, as the ink can smudge and transfer when the ballot paper folds. In its 2017 polling station handbook, the Electoral Commission explains that this could produce unclear results – for instance, by making it look as if someone has voted for more candidates than they are entitled to. Pencils are, therefore, the safer option.

Twyman said that the pencil conspiracy tends to surface at elections, particularly when the result comes as a surprise.

"The result in London was certainly not a surprise to anyone paying attention, but I imagine that (particularly in outer London) there were pockets of Conservative supporters who did not come into regular contact with many supporters of Sadiq Khan and believed everyone thought like them," he said. "Such things then get hyper-inflated by the delights of social media."

The verdict

Pencils are allowed during the vote count by the Electoral Commission as counters use them to tally up votes. It is not an indication of vote tampering and relates to a recurring conspiracy theory about polling station pencils. Therefore, we have rated this claim as false.

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