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


Memorandum by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council (POS 42)

ELECTORAL FRAUD

  There may be anecdotal evidence relating to fraud and postal votes. Very few prosecutions have been brought but electoral administrators are alert to the possibility of postal vote fraud.

  There are currently no means of checking voter and/or witness signatures. It is also obviously impossible to police the extent of pressure that might be put on a voter to vote a certain way.

  Nonetheless conventional voting could also be subject to corruption, for instance no proof of identity is required during the voting process.

  Electoral administrators are well aware that significant numbers of ballot papers will be sent to electors who have moved house, or not resided at an address for some considerable time because register information will be 10 months old at the time of the election.

  Any evidence of electoral fraud will be placed with the police.

PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS

  The fact that, on a rough average, voting turnout doubles with postal voting suggests the public are comfortable with the process. Indeed they are entitled to expect the system of voting to be modernised in the way that most other public processes or transactions have been. Those voters that are keen to vote by post are able to do so, on demand, and the number of permanent postal voters has increased significantly since the new regulations were introduced (3,000 in 2001—32,000 in 2004)

  On the other hand some members of the public have expressed an opinion that the system was open to abuse and they did not like the fact that their choice of voting method had been removed.

IMPACT ON TURNOUT

  There is no doubt that areas where all out postal voting has been piloted have seen a significant increase in turnout. In an area such as Wakefield where average turnout for local elections is approximately 25% (and even less for by-elections) this is to be encouraged. However, there is also much else that could be done to connect the voters to the democratic process, and enthuse them to take part, notably younger age groups.

ADMINISTRATION AND COST

  Since the introduction of the new regulations and the increase in the number of postal voters the administrative burden on electoral staff has increased significantly. Absent voting used to play a small part in the election timetable whereas now dealing with absent votes takes up a significant part of the staff time. Other aspects of the election, such as candidates, polling staff, and count arrangements continue to be managed in the traditional way.

  In effect, two electoral processes are taking place at the same time—postal and traditional. Whilst it is anticipated that workloads will increase a move to all postal would relieve some of the administrative complexities of electoral staff.

  Costs have inevitably increased as a result of the increase in the number of postal voters. It is difficult to say at this point whether or not all postal voting will be more or less expensive than traditional elections. It should also be remembered that the 2004 elections in Wakefield are in no way typical of the normal elections cycle so costs cannot easily be compared. The likelihood is that the costs of running a first all postal election will be substantially greater (eg due to increased publicity to enhance awareness).

ACCESS AND DISABILITY ISSUES

  Access for disabled voters has long been a problem in some polling stations, particularly for wheelchair users, and all postal elections could remove some of the barriers to voting. However, all postal elections will bring their own access problems—it may be difficult for visually impaired voters to read the ballot papers, whereas at present a larger ballot paper is on display in the polling station, as well as the device for Braille readers. Polling station staff are often called upon to assist voters in a number of ways—this advice/assistance will not be so readily available if all postal voting is adopted.

VOTER CHOICE

  All out postal voting removes "choice" from the voter. Currently electors have three voting choices—in person, by proxy or by post. All-out postal voting restricts that choice at a time when government is pressing for increased access in a manner most suitable to the individual. Many voters, particularly the elderly, enjoy visiting the polling station on election day and may not be so interested in voting if the vote is all postal. The envisaged "drop off points" will be few in number and will not be easily accessible to a large number of voters.

  The possibility of daily "marked" registers also removes an element of voter choice. Currently, electors can choose to divulge their electoral details to political "tellers", this initiative would remove that choice

  Set against this is the fact that significant increases in turnout indicate that significant numbers of voters have no issues with postal voting.

CONCLUSION

  Wakefield will ensure that, if an all postal election takes place on 10 June, it will be successfully organised—though as much notice as possible of the regulations is important.


 
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