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Tory members writing messages of support for Boris Johnson on their ballot papers will not have their votes invalidated, The Telegraph has learned.
Ballots will not be negated by scrawled messages, comments or even insults so long as members have made their “intention clear” by ticking a single box, those administering the vote have confirmed.
The clarification follows predictions that pro-Johnson Tories may seek to vent their anger at his defenestration when they vote, after an attempt to get the prime minister’s name on the ballot failed.
Simon Hearn, the managing director of Civica Election Services - the company running the ballot - told The Telegraph: “Like any election, if the intention of the voter is clear - for one candidate or the other in this particular election - then we’ll count that.
“If there’s anything that doesn’t make that intention clear, then that will be treated as a spoiled ballot.”
This approach has received the endorsement of the Conservative Party Board and Conservative Campaign Headquarters, the Telegraph understands.
Mr Hearn acknowledged there had been particular interest in what might invalidate ballot papers given the clamour from some quarters about “putting Boris on as an extra candidate”.
“Hypothetically, as long as they ticked one box and then they wrote ‘I’d rather somebody else was on the ballot paper’ well it wouldn’t invalidate the vote because they’ve given a clear preference for one of the two candidates," he said.
“The basic, normal electoral practice would apply - is the intention of the elector clear? And with all elections, you’re not looking to invalidate votes, you’re looking to validate votes.”
Mr Hearn said that in leadership elections, “you can get a lot of comments, or more than you would get in a local authority election or even a parliamentary election, because people are very aware of the candidates and they express views on them.”
However, a senior Conservative source warned that members should avoid marking their ballot papers with anything more than a cross next to their favoured candidate if they wished to remove any possible ambiguity over their vote.
The source said: "If you want to vote for one of the candidates I would recommend just putting a cross next to one of their names - or voting online."
The source said that most members were expected to vote online but given it is the first contest with digital voting "we don't know for sure".
One chairman of a Tory local association said there was “huge support for Boris, warts and all”, which would lead some members to “make it entirely clear” what they think of the process while still making their vote count.
“I have been at counts where it's been written, ‘I wouldn't vote for any one of these [expletive] if my life depended on it’. And then there'll be a tick in one particular box. We will sit there and go, ‘I know what it means’.”
“I've seen votes, where it's been agreed that the vote was a male genital, but it all fitted into the square. And therefore it was agreed that it was for that particular person.”
Asked about the current vote, the chair said: “I doubt it'd be more civil.”