Memorandum by Wakefield Metropolitan District
Council (POS 42)
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
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.
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 200132,000 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.
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.
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 timepostal and traditional. Whilst it
is anticipated that workloads will increase a move to all postal
would relieve some of the administrative complexities of electoral
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 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 problemsit
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 waysthis advice/assistance will not be so readily
available if all postal voting is adopted.
All out postal voting removes "choice"
from the voter. Currently electors have three voting choicesin
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.
Wakefield will ensure that, if an all postal
election takes place on 10 June, it will be successfully organisedthough
as much notice as possible of the regulations is important.