Pen or Pencil? MI5 theory puzzles Britons wavering between Remain and Leave

  • PTI, London
  • Updated: Jun 24, 2016 01:18 IST
A volunteer hands an unmarked ballot paper to a voter inside a bus being used as a temporary polling station in Kingston-Upon-Hull, northern England, on Thursday, as Britain holds a referendum to vote on whether to remain in, or to leave the European Union (EU). (AFP)

A pencil conspiracy theory widely dominated the social media on Thursday as voters favouring UK’s exit from the European Union appealed to Brexit supporters to carry their own pens to the polling booths to avert a plot by the spy agency MI5 to rig the votes in favour of the ‘Remain’ camp.

The UK Electoral Commission took the rumour-mongering seriously enough to welcome voters to bring along their own pens.

“By tradition, pencils are available in polling booths for voters to mark their ballot papers. If a voter wishes to bring their own pen and use that, it’s fine,” a spokesperson for the body in charge of polls in the country said.

Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo (L) casts his ballot in the referendum (AFP)

In regards to security, at the count there are statutory observers to make sure that they are carried out correctly. Campaigners are also invited to observe the counts taking place,” the spokesperson added.

Those warning about the conspiracy suggested that MI5 or another UK government agency could rub out the crosses on their ballot papers before they were counted presumably either spoiling their vote or changing it into a vote to remain in the EU.

On Twitter, the hashtag #usepens was doing the rounds with common tweets like “Please Do Vote today. Take a black pen with you, pencil can be rubbed out.”

There have also been instances at some polling booths where “USE A PEN TO VOTE” was scribbled at entry points.

Traditionally in all UK polls, pencils are provided within polling stations partly for historic and partly for practical reasons but there is no legal obligation to vote with them.

Voting rules are also fairly relaxed, which means while voters are expected to mark a cross next to their choice, any ticks or other clear marks are also acceptable.

The ballot paper for today’s referendum asks the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Voters have the option to mark a cross next to either “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union” and whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast is considered to have won.

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