Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

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 2003.

  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 invalid;

    —  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 law.

  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 20 May 2004