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

Memorandum by W J Crawford, Elections Officer, Sunderland City Council, European Elections North East Region (POS 43)

  I have been asked to submit evidence for the Committee's inquiry into postal voting.

  Sunderland City Council has experienced an increase in the use of postal voting and currently has 27,000 electors registered as permanent postal voters from an electorate of 212,544. At the local elections in May 2003 the Council was allowed to run an all postal pilot in all 25 wards within the City, which resulted in an increase in turn out from 22% in 2002 to 47%


  Sunderland's 2003 all postal pilot removed the need for a security statement (declaration of identity) to be witnessed. Following the close of the poll, election agents and candidates were allowed a completed "marked register" indicating who had returned a vote. There were no reports to the Returning Officer or to the Chief Constable by any elector, candidate or election agent of any misuse of the postal vote system.


  The increase in the number of permanent postal vote holders from 4,000 to 27,000 suggests that the electorate are comfortable with the postal vote process. Indeed, just under 100,000 people felt confident enough to return ballot papers by post at the postal pilot last year. Indeed continued use of this method of election can only increase the public's confidence.


  In the North East Region 19 of the 23 local authorities have some form of all postal pilot experience at either local or mayoral election. Some local authorities have piloted all postal on more than one occasion. The evaluation of the pilots, undertaken by the Electoral Commission, suggests that the turnout is significantly higher with an all postal election compared to a traditional election.


  Like Sunderland, a number of local authorities have significant numbers of permanent postal voters. Running a traditional election in conjunction with having to issue significant numbers of postal votes is extremely difficult. All postal elections are more expensive but represent better value for money per elector based on a higher turn out.


  It is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure all polling stations are accessible for the disabled. Many schools are reluctant to allow children to be present while polling is taking place, while many church halls and temporary polling stations do not meet the required standards. All postal voting does not solve all of the disability issues, particularly in multiple elections where electors have to understand and act upon instructions they may not understand or are unable to read.


  Imposing all postal elections on electors does remove voter choice and there are a number of people who still prefer to cast their vote in person at a polling station. However, statistics do strongly suggest that all postal elections increase turnout.

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