Scrawling support for Boris Johnson on ballot paper will not spoil votes

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 favored 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.”

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