Memorandum by the Labour Party (POS 39)
The Labour Party's view on postal voting in
local elections is the same as the ODPMs submission to the Select
Committee and is the same as the Labour Government's view on postal
voting, as submitted to the Electoral Commission in September
In summary, the Labour Party and Labour Government's
view is as per the ODPMs submission and the following:
1. There should be a statutory presumption
that all local elections be run as all-postal ballots unless there
are compelling reasons why an all-postal ballot would be inappropriate
or disadvantageous for a group or groups of electors. The final
decision should rest with the Returning Officer following consultation
with party group leaders and independent members represented on
the Council. If polling stations are to be used, the Returning
Officer should publish a statement of reasons for that decision
at the time of notice of poll.
2. The current declaration of identity should
be replaced with a new security statement to accompany postal
ballots, whether in the context of all-postal elections or otherwise.
This security statement should:
require the voter to sign a statement
that he/she is the individual to whom the ballot paper was addressed;
not require any form of witness signature;
include a clear explanation of the
role and use of the declaration, in particular that it will be
separated from the ballot paper before counting can begin and
that failure to complete the statement will render a ballot paper
be designed and printed to make it
obvious to the voter that this separation will occur.
3. Any all-postal election must provide
staffed delivery points. The decision on how many staffed delivery
points is a matter for the Returning Officer but it should be
at least one. In other cases more may be needed, but in no cases
should there be more than the number of wards in which elections
are to be held. Delivery points should be permitted in both mobile
and fixed locations; unstaffed delivery points should not be permitted
to minimise voter confusion.
4. These staffed delivery points must provide
electors with the ability to:
deliver their completed postal vote,
or complete their ballot paper in private;
receive assistance in completing
their ballot if they so desire;
access election information in different
formats and languages, including the tactile template;
have a replacement ballot paper issued.
5. Staff at these delivery points must receive
training, with a focus on the provision of assistance to voters.
These staff must also be bound by the secrecy provisions in electoral
6. The implementation of all-postal voting
should include a statutory requirement that all ballot papers
be sorted `face down' at the verification stage.
7. These measures should also be reinforced
by the implementation of the Electoral Commission's earlier recommendations
for increasing the security of postal voting generally:
There should be a new offence of
intending fraudulently to apply for a postal or proxy vote. The
maximum penalty should be a custodial sentence in line with the
penalties for personation.
The drafting of the law on undue
influence should be revised to clarify the nature of the offence.
It should also become a legal requirement
that secrecy warnings are included on postal and proxy voting
literature; these warnings should be specified in law.
The existing statutory provisions
on personation should be extended to give the police the power
of arrest, based on `reasonable suspicion' of personation, at
any location, not just at polling stations.
A new legal provision should be introduced
so that in exceptional circumstances, and where the prosecution
has demonstrated all due diligence, the court may extend the period
in which a prosecution must be brought by up to 12 months.
There should be more rigorous and
routine checks for fraud after significant elections, on the basis
of a random audit process.
The Commission will develop a Code
of Practice in relation to the handling of postal ballots by representatives
of political parties, in conjunction with political parties. If
self-regulation does not prove to be effective, there may be a
need for legislative action in the future.
8. A further integral component of a successful
rollout of all-postal voting is implementation of Commission's
recommendation for a move from household to individual voter registration.
Improved funding arrangement for electoral services will also
be important in ensuring that all-postal elections can be efficiently
and effectively delivered by local authorities.
9. The 2003 statutory orders for the all-postal
pilot schemes in Herefordshire, Gateshead and Stevenage should
be used as the starting point for creating a new pilot order.
This new pilot order should also take account of the detailed
recommendations in this report and should be piloted at local
authority by-elections during the remainder of 2003 and in 2004.
Subject to the outcome of evaluation, this order should then provide
the basis for making all-postal voting available at local elections
without pilot status.
10. All-postal voting should not progress
beyond pilot status until our wider recommendations for legislative
change detailed above are enacted.
The Labour Party and Labour Government shares
the Electoral Commission's assessment of the substantial benefits
in terms of turnout that all postal voting could potentially bring.
It recognises that underlying the Electoral Commission's assessment
and recommendations is a judgement that, with the appropriate
measures, all postal voting could be universally introduced for
local elections without damaging the security and fairness of
the ballot. It will be important to test this judgement, particularly
in relation to the detailed measures that might best accompany
any roll out of all postal voting in local elections.
Accordingly, the Labour Party and Labour Government
accepts, as a basis for consultation, the broad thrust of the
Electoral Commission's recommendations for all-postal voting to
be rolled out generally for local elections in England and Wales.
The Labour Party and Labour Government believes
that any move to universal all-postal voting, as now recommended
by the Electoral Commission for local elections, must be regarded
as an interim, albeit significant, development. During this interim
stage of electoral reform, electors would be able to return their
votes by post or by taking them to designated delivery points.
The Labour Party and Labour Government's long
term aim is that, in addition to these channels for returning
their votes, electors will also be able to return their votes
through an electronic channel. These electronic channels will
become of increasing importance as the medium of internet and
phone, rather than the post, as they become the ever more widely
used methods of communication with organisations such as government
for an increasing proportion of the electorate.