Memorandum by the Green Party (POS 45)
This submission is simply a collection of observations
made by various Green Party activists who have direct experience
of postal voting pilots. My workload, and the extremely short
notice given to me of the initial deadline for submissions, have
precluded anything better organised.
Some members of the Party have anecdotal evidence
of abuse of postal voting, including Oxford Green Party, whose
submission on the subject of coercion of postal voters by Labour
Party activists I have been unable to re-locate. Others believe
that there were no problems in their areas. In any event, both
the Oxford and other material presented here has been previously
supplied to the Electoral Commission.
Examples of other difficulties presented by
wide-scale postal voting are mentioned in various of the pieces
The Brighton and Hove case highlights the scope
for abuse of information on voting trends received before close
of poll. (See also the more detailed report supplied to me by
Jason Kitcat of the FREE e-democracy project which I have sent
along with this submission).
Even where no major complaints have arisen,
the issue of provision of information to Parties as to who has
already voted has clearly put some Returning Officers in an awkward
position. They have provided it to Parties but told them not to
tell voters where they got it fromlest a barrage of complaints
arrive at the Town Hall.
Both the submission by myself and by our North
East Regional Party to the Electoral Commission on the European
postal voting pilots point out the difficulties posedespecially
to smaller Partiesby the relationship between postal vote
despatch dates and the timing of freepost and any party election
broadcast, especially where all-postal ballots apply. A number
of Councils are in any case actively promoting postal vote take-up,
so that the proportion of people that might vote before receiving
Party material is likely to increase anyway.
Notwithstanding the fact that no serious abuse
of postal voting has been detected to date, and that the Electoral
Commission are proposing to conduct some audits in order to check
that this remains the case, the Green Party believes that postal
voting provides far more scope for abuse than voting in person
and that all-postal ballots exacerbate this to an unacceptable
The Party's Regional Councilwhich has
the power to elaborate upon existing policy, and to create interim
policy based on the Party's overall principles has, according
to its Co-Chair Graeme McIver, concluded that "Postal voting
[is] flawed in that it allows intimidation and vote buying ...
Asking for evidence misses the point. The point is thisbecause
the ballot paper can be filled in anywhereand by anyone
if the declaration is signedan individual's vote is not
necessarily secret from all the political parties standing. The
evidence is in history. Before the UK introduced the secret ballot,
intimidation and vote buying was rife. I am sure there is a 19th
century Royal Commission report on the issue. The [Select] Committee
should be written to and invited to read these reports ..."
National Election Agent, Green Party of England and
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on
the Local Election Pilot Scheme in Hackney; we have the following
comments, many of which are about the particular implementation
of the scheme in Hackney.
1. There was no pre-consultation on the
pilot scheme and its implementation between Hackney Council and
the political parties (there was a brief consultation with sitting
councillors). This did not give us the opportunity to make comments
or suggestions that may have been helpful to the implementation.
2. There was a very late briefing about
the pilot to party representatives on 14 March. This was the first
and only meeting at which the system was explained and the timetable
announced. Short notice of this meeting itself meant that many
of us could not make the meeting. I myself was at the spring Green
Party Conference in Scarborough on this date.
3. A curtailed election timetable was introduced
to enable the extended voting period to finish on the same day
as the rest of the country voted. This led to confusion and difficulties
amongst some of the parties, who were following the statutory
dates and not given enough advanced notice of the new dates. The
period for completing nomination papers finished at noon the day
after a bank holiday weekend. At least one party (Hackney First)
failed to get any nominations delivered in time.
4. "Late registration" for voters
(up to April 17th) was advertised in the council newspaper "Hackney
Today" and then withdrawn without explanation by the Chief
Executive Max Caller at the parties' briefing meeting. Mr Caller
said the advertisement had been "a mistake".
5. As there is no requirement to remove
yourself from the Electoral Register when you leave an address,
a great many ballot papers were sent out to departed voters. A
majority of these are in HMOs (most with a single letterbox) where
there is a high tenant turnover, and consequently these papers
are available to anyone unscrupulous enough to make use of them.
The risk in this situation is far greater than with personal voting,
and with very little chance of the discovery of any fraud.
6. The electronic version of the Electoral
Register supplied to us was incomplete.
7. Too much emphasis was placed on the council
newspaper "Hackney Today" for delivering information
about the election and the new system. This newspaper has a very
patchy delivery record. I myself have never received a single
copy of this newspaper and I have my own front door onto a street.
Large areas of Hackney are estates and tenants in these blocks
are even less likely to see this publication.
8. The ERO in Hackney failed to send agents
a list of candidates successfully accepted. Similarly, candidates'
confirmation letters did not state the name of their election
9. Delivery of ballot papers was done by
council officers. Delivery was patchy and as evidence neither
myself nor my partner received our ballot papers, which were mistakenly
delivered to a neighbour's house. This situation was relayed to
us by voters on numerous occasions.
10. The ballot paper and envelope system
was possibly over-complicated. The well intentioned signature
system to deter fraud may have actually deterred voting by those
that did not understand it. It was not immediately apparent how
to even complete the "cross" in the strange looking
boxes designed with the computer readers in mind rather than the
11. The postal ballot system can lead to
coercion during the completion of ballot papers. There is evidence
that some church groups were holding group voting sessions where
members of the congregation were asked to bring in their ballot
papers for completion en masse. This no doubt also happens in
families with a strong matriarch/patriarch, particularly as a
witness signature is required.
12. Completed ballot papers were collected
by canvassers during the voting period. The Green Party refrained
from this activity, unsure of the legal situation, but it was
carried out quite openly by some of the other parties. Unlike
the ferrying of voters to the polling booth, this feature of the
election is open to abuse, as there is no means for voters to
check that their ballot paper, which may or may not have been
in favour of the party that collected it, was actually received
at the town hall.
13. The return by post or by hand of papers
was to the Town Hall rather than to an independent body. In contrast
to the strict rules governing traditional sealed ballot boxes,
papers were filed in open trays at the public reception desk and
in unsealed wheelie bins and boxes. I believe a pre-sort of rejected
papers was made outside of the formal counting process open to
observation by party agents.
14. Given that returned ballot papers are
logged by their serial numbers which are linked to the Electoral
Register, we would have expected the council to have made a statement
about data protection and about their security arrangements for
protecting this data.
15. The process of counting of ballot papers
was conducted in a less than transparent manner. In contrast to
a regular count where the counting is open to inspection at close
quarters by party agents, the count was done by machine some distance
from the area allowed for observation. In my experience, mistakes
regularly happen at counts, but these could not be picked up by
observers who could not see the details on the papers during the
16. There was a massive number of spoilt
ballot papers for this election, particularly for the mayoral
referendum. Election Agents and Counting Agents were shown very
few of the spoilt papers and were not sent a breakdown of the
rejection statistics and causes.
17. The evening of the count in Hackney
was frankly chaotic. The decision to split venues for the counting
and the actual announcement led to confusion and near angry scenes.
The ERO announced the results to a largely empty hall in a music
venue while candidates and agents unfamiliar with the building
were left bewildered in the adjacent bar. As everyone jostled
past the door staff standing between the bar and the hall the
results on the public address system went unheard above the shouting.
18. Despite the fact this was an experimental
vote, there has been no move by the council to check the validity
of the vote. I understand your own assessment is to inform future
elections, but we would like to see the council or an independent
body assess the actual completed process in Hackney, particularly
with regard to fraud, for which the borough has an unenviable
19. In spite of moves to streamline the
paperwork associated with "return of expenses" submissions,
the return for each candidate is still 10 sides of A4 (6 expenses
and 4 declarations). The Green Party in Hackney stood 18 candidates
and spent under £1,000 altogether, yet we had to complete
a 180 page expenses return, with much of the information repeated
again and again on the candidates sheets. It is high time for
local parties to be able to submit a single return with a simple
breakdown of expenditure for each candidate.
Our own conclusions from this pilot are:
Voting experiments should not take
place in boroughs with a history of poor management of the electoral
Postal voting may increase turnout,
but at the expense of transparency, security and voting privacy.
Where postal voting is introduced
there should be consultation with the parties inside and outside
of the council, and with voters. The voting paper should be simple
Data protection standards need to
be clearly enforced if computer counting of ballot papers is to
become the norm.
Elections which are the subject of
experimental voting procedures should be independently audited
and assessed during the process and after completion. A report
should be published on the audit.
Postal voting and other voting methods
alone are insufficient to raise voter enthusiasm or faith in the
system. Our suggestions are proportional representation, a voting
age of 16, councillor `recall' and greater decentralisation.
Local Election Agent
Hackney Green Party
Item from the Brighton Argus.
"Letter sparks Town Hall turmoil" by Adam
"Ken Bodfish said `evidence' actually meant
The row over a letter from Brighton and Hove's
Labour leaders had all the hallmarks of a serious political scandal.
Days before the final votes were in, leaders of the party in power
appeared to have peered into the ballot box and used the information
to target critical wards.
Yesterday, we revealed how the city's Labour
leader had circulated a letter to the party faithful. Apparently
admitting it had been given a sneak preview of the early returns
in the all-postal ballot. Ken Bodfish, the leader of the city
council, warned party members the result was hanging on a knife-edge
and urged activists to step up the pressure.
But last night there was the sound of frantic
back-pedalling from the city's Labour HQ. Coun Bodfish, who put
his name to the rallying letter in which he broadcast the "bad
news", said he had not written it.
Instead, the party's election organiser Simon
Burgess, also a candidate, admitted penning the offending leaflet
in which four "key wards" were identified as being crucial
to retain Labour's position as the ruling party. He said he had
got it wrong and apologised.
Coun Bodfish said the "firm evidence"
to which he referred in print was, in fact, educated guesswork.
David Panter, the chief executive of the city
council and also its returning officer, insisted the integrity
of the election had not been compromised.
But, typically, the leaders of the opposition
parties quickly jumped on the bandwagon with accusations of foul
play and threats of calling in the police.
Because the all-postal ballot process is so
new, the subtle shifts in the rules have not been fully tested.
These include allowing election agents to make
regular checks on the number of people who have returned their
votes in the run-up to the closing date.
This information, obtained perfectly legitimately
under the new pilot election guidelines, can then be used to forecast
patterns and trends in each ward allowing parties to target the
critical seats where they need to make an extra push. it is a
very different story from the one Coun Bodfish/Mr Burgess referred
to in their wake-up call leaflet to activists. That suggested
party leaders had been able to assess a sample of votes already
cast, which would have been against the law.
Because of this, there are those from within
and outside the political sphere who say the whiter-than-white
image essential for a free and fair election has now been tarnished.
Keith Taylor, Green Party convenor in Brighton
and Hove, led those calls which were also backed by a series of
worried members of the public who contacted us yesterday afternoon.
Coun Taylor said: "This represents a gross
abuse of the system."
Tory leader Brian Oxley weighed in saying Coun
Bodfish's letter had been unwise at the very least.
He said: "Ken Bodfish's letter is irresponsible
in the extreme as it is feeding people's concerns about the confidentiality
of the voting process."
Lib Dem leader Paul Elgood said: "This
must be fully investigated. We will be taking legal advice from
the national party and will consider making a police complaint.
This could plainly have interfered with the electoral system."
David Weltman, 70, and his wife Linda, 56, from
Kemp Town, were among those who contacted us. Mr Weltman said:
"We have always voted in local elections because we realise
how important it is to have our say. During every election we
have walked to our local polling station, except this year when
we voted by post. We feel very uneasy about this latest development.
I do not feel my vote is secure or confidential anymore."
Mr Burgess, who put his hand up to causing all
the fuss when his letter was leaked to opposition councillors
and The Argus, said last night: "With hindsight I would have
written it differently but it was a private letter to Labour members.
"I regret it's being interpreted a different
way than intended. The letter was just meant to motivate members.
"We can make predictions that a certain
level of turnout is likely to favour certain parties from what
has happened in the past. For example, it is well known I think
that Labour voters are possibly the hardest to get out. If we
see a certain turnout is likely, it indicates to us that we need
to get more people out in that ward. The whole thing is absolutely
scrupulously supervised and there isn't any question of us doing
anything dodgy. With hindsight I regret it is open to this interpretation.
I drafted this letter for Ken, I put his name on it and I want
to take responsibility for it."
Mr Panter said his task as returning officer
was to reassure people the electoral process was intact and had
not been corrupted.
He said he had spoken to Coun Bodfish and asked
Mr Burgess for "clarification" but was confident nothing
improper had taken place.
He added: "I'm absolutely clear they have
not seen any of the ballot papers to do any sort of sampling."
He denied the row had damaged the image of the
city's first major postal ballot saying it had merely provided
another chance to stress how secure the procedure was.
He said: "There was some inappropriate
explanation used in a party leaflet, which, as returning officer,
I have no control over. It's unfortunate."
The strict guidelines governing the way elections
are run are enshrined in law as a foundation stone of British
In conventional elections they are laid down
by the Representation of the People Act.
Representatives of political parties are allowed
to watch as postal votes are opened prior to polling day but are
subject to strict confidentiality rules.
Anybody who subsequently passes on information
about voting patterns would be committing an offence, according
to some senior election administrators.
The same regulations do not apply to this year's
Mr Panter said there had been no breach of the
code as the pilot election was not governed by Standard regulations.
He said: "Certainly it was in the provisions
within our particular proposal that this information should be
shared and that was the bid that was approved."
Alex Folkes, of the Electoral Reform Society
in London, whose sister organisation Electoral Reform Services
is running the election on behalf of the council, said security
He said: "People are always worried about
the security of any voting procedure and they are right to have
these concerns because we do need to make sure that we can rely
on our ballots to give the right result at the end of the day."
Foolish act on eve of count
Many people in Brighton and Hove are worried
about the secrecy and efficiency of the all-postal ballot being
piloted for the city elections this week.
So it was remarkably foolish of election organiser
Simon Burgess to write, and council leader Ken Bodfish to sign,
a letter to party members indicating that they had wind of how
people were voting.
The letter does not say Labour had access to
ballot papers, which are supposed to be kept confidential, but
it does say: "We are able to `sample' how people are voting."
It's highly unlikely that the independent Electoral
Reform Society, which is helping make sure everything runs properly,
would let people from any party have access to information other
than the voting percentages and whether the election was being
Now Burgess and Councillor Bodfish, experienced
operators who should have known better, have raised fresh doubts
in the minds of many people about the all-postal vote, which was
a genuine attempt to get more people involved.
Labour's ploy to get party members working hard
in marginal seats has rebounded hard on them.
Greens, who have never liked the postal vote,
have responded with predictable fury while Lib Dems have gone
right over the top by suggesting police could be involved.
The voters could still have the last laugh on
Labour. Those who have not voted so far, and the number is worryingly
large, still have the chance to drop their ballot forms into boxes
at town halls until Thursday afternoon.
Their verdict on a party as clumsy as Labour
might be to vote for someone else.
Rushcliffe Borough was a "pilot" area
for complete postal voting. I have already been interviewed on
this by market reseachers Deloite & Touche, who were assessing
Consultation with affected Parties, including
political Parties. Whether or not sufficient notice was given
of the management of the process. Whether concerns were adequately
addressed or not.
I was interviewed before during and after the
pilot scheme. Yes sufficient notice was given. My concerns weren't
ones that could be addressed as they were due to the nature of
Were you provided with a written set of "rules"
for the conduct of the pilot? Were these clear and were they properly
adhered to by the RO?
Yes and yes.
What was your view of the mechanics of the conduct
of the pilots? Were you provided with lists of people who had
cast postal or e-votes throughout the campaign? At what frequency?
Were the public told this would be happening? Did any members
of the public find out and, if so, what was their reaction?
Prob with Roy Mail as they posted some ballot
papers too early, on the 18th instead of the 22nd April. This
was because they had had the papers delivered early to the post
offices! They didn't apologise! A full council meeting last Thurs
unanimously approved a motion proposed by the Lib Dems (most affected
by this early delivery) stating that future deliveries should
be subject to a formal contract which includes penalties for early
or late delivery.
Also the motion asked that any future deliveries
of ballot papers be made in envelopes clearly marked as containing
ballot papers, although the envelopes were clearly labelled as
being from the borough they were not labelled as containing ballots.
The motion also asked that the instructions on the papers be checked
in future, by an independent org eg Plain Eng Soc as some people
couldn't understand them. (I saw no evidence of this in Lady Bay
but then we are the most highly educated ward in Notts!)
We weren't given lists but then we didn't ask
for them so it may have been possible to obtain this infoI
really don't know.
What was your view of the democratic strengths
and weaknesses of the? What scope was there for abuse of the new
voting options being piloted? Do you have any hard evidence that
such abuse took place? If so, what has been done about it?
The pilot did increase the number of voters
so it was successful in that way. Good for me because voters could
see who was standing, for which parties and where the candidates
lived well in advance. Problems with security eg multiple occupation
households (1 politically active student could vote on everyone's
ballot, elderly people or those with learning disabilites could
have their ballots taken and filled in by staff or managementseveral
homes in Lady Bay; in these categories, Dominant figure in household
could fill in rest of family's ballots etc). Also, when canvassing
noticed ballot papers in American style mail boxes, in open porches
where no letter box on inside door; (rarely) sticking out of letterboxes/under
doors, some older flats conversions allowed access by any person
in block to anyone else's mail, any of these could have been taken
and filled in. Campaign had to be very quickly organised as less
time for canvassing, delivery of leaflets etc bad news for smaller
parties with fewer financial & human resources. No evidence
that any abuses actually took place, but then how would it be
possible to find out and keep the ballot secret?
Councillor for Lady Bay ward, Rushcliffe Borough
STEVENAGE BC 2003.
I had three points, the first regarding Postal
Voting. I said that from our experience, when handing out leaflets,
people were giving them back saying that "They had already
posted their vote". I felt that this took away the "focus"
of the election. Denying the opportunity to debate the issues
in the lead up to the election. Making it all too convenient for
people to vote for the party they had always voted for, rather
than consider an alternative.
My second point covered the fact that you could
obtain from the council, during the period allocated for postal
votes, a list of who had voted so far, although obviously, not
who they had voted for. This was achieved by barcoding the sealed
I again said that this could play into the hands
of the larger parties, because with more people on the ground
they were better able to target those addresses where known supporters
were yet to vote, particularly if the result was predicted to
My last point covered the fact that counting
for the postal vote begins before the actual "physical count"
on the evening of the election. I said that councils had to be
very careful that the ability to view this count was not abused,
bearing in mind there was still time left before the election
There was a "fair" amount of information
as to how the above were to be regulated etc, but obviously it
was all laid down long before the election with little or no time
to consider or debate the for's and against's of each process.
I'm confident that our RO adhered to all the
rules, but I did not receive a copy of them. He was quite open
about the process and always willing to discuss them.
I don't believe the public were very aware of
the fact, if at all, that information as to whether they had voted
or not was available to the parties. We were offered a list of
those people who had voted, but declined as they were of little
use when only standing paper candidates.
2004 ELECTORAL PILOT
We take this opportunity to remind the Commission
that all-postal and e-voting, commencing as they will some time
in advance of "polling day", have the potential to significantly
exacerbate previous problems regarding the ability of the Royal
Mail to complete freepost deliveries before people cast their
vote. We are now in direct communication with relevant Royal Mail
officers about this and other matters regarding freepost. No doubt
the Commission has also discussed the implications with them.
We are pleased to see that the Commission has
acknowledged the potential for erosion of the value of Party Election
Broadcasts by these pilots. This is especially the case for smaller
Parties that will probably only get one broadcast during the election
period and (at least in our case) have traditionally spent a significant
proportion of our campaign budget on its production. If we do
get only one broadcast it could end up being shown after a big
chunk of the electorate have voted, or so far ahead of polling
day that its impact on everyone else's voting behaviour is near
zero. We would be interested to know whether the Commission has
discussed broadcast allocations and scheduling with the BBC in
the context of the proposed pilots.
National Election Agent, Green Party of England and
NE ENGLAND GREEN
In response to the Electoral Commission's consultation
on piloting all postal votes in three regions, the Green Party
for England and Wales has expressed a preference that the North
East should be one of the pilot regions because:
The North East is the smallest region,
both in terms of area and population. This makes the region suitable
for a pilot from which lessons can be learnt before being tried
on a larger scale.
We as the Green Party within the region endorse
this position, but have a number of concerns about procedures
and precautions that we would wish to see addressed before the
pilot goes ahead. One of the main effects of postal voting is
that many people vote as soon as they receive the ballot paperin
fact the increased response rates sought depend heavily on this
fact. Depending on when the ballot papers are sent out, this could
cut the effective campaign period by up to 10 days, which has
The Post Office already have to phase
free post leaflet deliveries over a period of one or two weeks
in the run up to the election. Arrangements must be in place to
ensure that all the free post leaflets have been delivered before
the ballot papers go out.
Party political election broadcasts
are timed to take place right through to election day. While larger
parties may get multiple broadcasts, smaller parties, like the
Green Party will get only one broadcast. Since this is organised
nationally, it means either that many people voting by post will
have voted before the single broadcast is screened, or that it
will be transmitted so long before election day that it will have
little impact elsewhere in the country.
The nature of a national election
campaign is such that many critical issues may be "released"
just a few days before election day. Poll results suggest that
sharp swings can take place up to 12-24 hours before the election
as a result of the way campaigns climax. Postal voting in part
of the country in a national election may well miss the "national
We hope that these matters can be addressed
in a way which will not lead to premature, uninformed voting.
Councillor Dr Nic Best