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