EU Referendum Blog: The Actual Ballot Paper

In May 2013, the Spectator’s Rory Sutherland wrote a very witty piece on the Hitler Guide to Rigging Elections. He included a copy of the now infamous 1938 Anschluss referendum ballot paper, which, as Dr Goebbels remarked, demonstrated “the most effective form of persuasion is when you are not aware you are being persuaded”. This paper is shown further down this blog, but most of you (I hope), once you have seen it, may not be convinced of its subtlety.

So what has all this to do with our 2016 Referendum? According to the European People’s Party quite a lot; their website proclaims that the ballot paper for 23rd June is a


And go on to explain in great depth why.

They use as an example of a perfect ballot paper the one which was used for the 2014 Scottish Referendum.


Short in words and sweet on simplicity; even my countrymen couldn’t mess this one up.

The EPP’s argument is that the 23rd June ballot paper ” demonstrated four specific elements of visual bias in the Europe referendum ballot paper resulting from the recommendation of the Electoral Commission and as approved by Parliament (Statutory Instrument 2016, No 219 page 103). It also illustrated bias in the Electoral Commission’s own written proposal.” EPP points to specific similarities between the Europe referendum ballot paper and that used to secure 99.7% support in Hitler’s 1938 referendum to endorse the incorporation of Austria into Germany. “The Europe referendum paper incorporates some of the same characteristics but these will not immediately be obvious to the voter whose eye is drawn, for reasons not fully understood in the ballot box, to “Leave”:


(Do you approve of the reunification of Austria with the GermanReich.. and do you vote for the party of our leader Adolf Hitler?)

They then consider what is wrong with the 2016 ballot paper below




“On Hitler’s ballot paper, the undesired outcome “Nein” is pushed towards the horizontal margin. Similarly, in the Europe referendum, “leave”/”Leave” look and are much closer to the centre than “Remain” an effect enhanced by “leave” being as directly above “Leave” as the different typeface allows. While the “Nein” is further de-emphasised by being much smaller, “Remain” is diluted by being much more entangled in surrounding text: “Leave” stands out.”
The EPP believes that “The Electoral Commission has produced a complex ballot paper with strong overall visual and also verbal bias”, and have written to them to complain (see their website They have a good point. Ballot papers wherever possible should be as simple as possible. Voters like to be able to see where to put their cross immediately. Elections with multiple candidates from multiple parties can use colour to highlight the party logo. And referenda, where there is usually only 2 choices, should have the simplest paper, like the Scottish one. Hitler’s one was simple too, but in a glaringly obvious way. He won, with an alleged 99%, but then I would not have liked to have been a returning officer on that one.

So, be aware of the structure of the 23rd June paper, and tell people.
Senga Scott