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In the 1830 general election to the parliament at Westminster, Wikipedia records:

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How did historians arrive at these figures? Do they mean that the the Tories got 62,554 votes, or that they got the support of 62,554 voters?

In general elections, some forms of plural voting were legal until 1948 in Great Britain, and until 1969 in Northern Ireland. Reasons might include owning multiple properties in one constituency, owning properties in several constitiencies, being eligible to vote in a borough constituency as well as the county constituency, or being part of a university constituency as well as the one where an elector lived.

Further complicating the above - electors who lived in multimember constituencies could usually cast as many votes as the constituency had seats, or sometimes one less than that number (so e.g. 2 votes in a 3 member constituency). Electors were not obliged to cast all votes for representatives of the same party - they could vote for one Whig, one Tory etc. Nor did they have to use all their votes - they could undervote.

These were all abolished at different times up to 1969. By the early 20th century, any difference was probably quite trivial as the most widespread forms of plural voting had been abolished.

Until 1872, ballots were not secret - a voter's name and their chosen candidate was recorded in a poll book.

In principle it would be possible to find the names in the poll book and match them up with names in other poll books to find out how many people supported candidates from a particular party. Was this done?

The wikipedia article does not say where these vote totals were found. The references given in the article are below:

British Electoral Facts 1832–1999, compiled and edited by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher (Ashgate Publishing Ltd 2000). Source: Dates of Elections – Footnote to Table 5.02

British Historical Facts 1760–1830, by Chris Cook and John Stevenson (The Macmillan Press 1980). Source: Types of constituencies – Great Britain

His Majesty's Opposition 1714–1830, by Archibald S. Foord (Oxford University Press 1964)

Parliamentary Election Results in Ireland 1801–1922, edited by B.M. Walker (Royal Irish Academy 1978). Source: Types of constituencies – Ireland
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  • I couldn't find any source for actual returns with a quick search, but if it worked anything like US general elections of the period did, then votes were actually counted separately for each seat. So the only thing I could see these grand totals being is a compilation of votes for candidates of each party for each seat. I suppose another possiblity would be that they are only counting in party totals votes for the candidate who won, but I'd hope that isn't how it was done.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 8 at 15:41
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    Yes, votes are counted separately in each seat. I would imagine this is only a total of votes as reading thousands of poll books would be a lot of work.
    – Ne Mo
    Feb 8 at 19:44
  • Well, again poll records I've looked at for that period for US General elections showed totals for each candidate for the representative unit in question. Presumably things were counted at the precinct level, and the precinct numbers sent upwards to the district. So the work of actually going through the thousands of poll books was only done once by workers at each precinct. Sort of like a real-world divide-and-conquer algorithm.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 8 at 19:49
  • I'm willing to bet money (and reputation) that this is documented somewhere in the rules of Westminster Parliament. Can someone suggest research possibilities? I'd start with Voting systems in the UK provided by the House of Commons library, and look for citations/references to earlier versions. or possibly with the House of Commons Library summary of the election of 1830
    – MCW
    Feb 9 at 19:04
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    You're absolutely correct that the franchise was not standardized in 1830. OTOH, poll books would have been essential everywhere as voting took place over a month, not on a single day (so you couldn't simply do a show of hands and record the winner - the voters were not all in the same place at the same time.
    – Ne Mo
    Feb 10 at 21:17

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