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

Memorandum by DocQwise Business Services Ltd (POS 46)

  DocQwise Business Services Limited welcomes the decision to hold an enquiry into Postal Voting by the ODPM: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee.


  1.1  DocQwise Business Services Ltd. is a "concept to completion" Document House, with a strong sense of Corporate Citizenship. We believe in sharing best practises and it is with the experience from a successful all-out Postal Ballot project in 2003 that we make this approach.

  1.2  We refer to minutes of presentation given by John Sills, Head of Electoral Policy Division, Department for Constitutional Affairs, City of Sunderland, 29 January 2004 (Appendix 1—attached).


  2.1  This written Evidence is submitted by DocQwise to ensure that knowledge, facts and documented experience are made available to the Select Committee, the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

  2.2  DocQwise is convinced that the successful All Postal Ballot project in 2003 performed by Darlington Borough Council provides important lessons that are very much in the public interest. Additionally, turnout increased from 33.7% to 51.1% and there was no evidence of fraud. We consider the 2003 Darlington Borough Council pilot a clear success.


  Against the backdrop of the successful Darlington project it is a matter of regret that the DCA is continuing with the old-fashioned and inefficient manual exception process for the 2004 postal elections thereby denying the public interest in the following key areas:

    —  Public perceptions (ease and simplicity of voting).

    —  Impact on turnout (a complex process will deter many voters).

    —  Administration and cost (20-30 per cent cost increase compared with the one-piece mailer principles).


  4.1  The DCA proposals are for an all postal ballot to elect UK members of the European Parliament. The form of the ballot is to be essentially the same as has been used for on-request postal voting for a number of years.

  4.2  Each elector will receive a pack containing at least the following:

    (a)  Ballot paper

    (b)  Ballot paper return envelope—(numbered)

    (c)  Security statement—(numbered)

    (d)  Return envelope—(numbered)

    (e)  Instructions

    (f)  Potential further ballot papers for local and parish elections if they are taking place at the same time—(numbered).

  Items (b), (c), (d) and (f) will each carry an identifying number to match the three/four items together.

  4.3  The elector votes on the ballot paper and inserts this into the ballot paper return envelope. The elector also has to sign the security statement (witness required?). These two items must then be inserted into the return envelope and posted.

  4.4  When received back at the council, there is a matching process between the returned ballot paper envelope, the security statement and (when opened) the ballot paper and the Electoral Roll. If there are errors (numbers do not match, security statement not completed correctly etc), depending on when the error is discovered and what the error is, the package is returned to the voter for corrections or the vote is declared void.


  5.1  The proposed method was devised many years ago simply to fulfil any requests for a postal vote. Because these were by request only, the numbers were very small and the method was adequate for the volumes that were produced (approximately 0.1% of the electorate). Although this method has worked satisfactorily for on-request postal votes, the logistics of running an entire election this way are formidable.

  5.2  The DCA suggest that there are three items to be produced for each voter with matching security numbers. Production of these individual items is not an issue. What must not happen is for these items to become mismatched when passing through the production processes. To ensure the integrity of all the voter packages when three separate items must correctly match, very close control must be maintained throughout all steps and package integrity checking systems must be used. The fact that one of the items is an envelope complicates this. The consequences of such an error are a major concern, especially considering that once matching goes wrong, without an integrity checking system in place its likely that the whole of that production run will be wrong from the error point onwards.

  5.3  In a household that has multiple electors, it is possible for the matched parts of voter packages to become mixed. This could then invalidate the votes, as there is no way of checking the correct ballot paper is in the ballot paper envelope.

  5.4  Because of the number of parts in the pack and the consequent requirement for the voter to follow several separate steps, it is very likely that voters will make mistakes.

  5.5  The process of opening the returned envelopes, managing a process for returning unsigned security statements and then matching them again with the correct ballot paper envelope is difficult. Ballot papers must be filed in such a way as to be easily retrieved when (if) the security statement is returned for the second time.

  5.6  The use of a ballot paper return envelope with an identifying number adds to the cost and complexity of the process.

  5.7  None of the benefits found in the pilots seem to have been carried through to this election.


  6.1  One-piece ballot paper.

    —  Single sheet creates no integrity problems.

    —  Contains simple instructions, security statement and ballot paper.

    —  Different sections separated by perforations.

    —  Ballot paper section is gummed for folding and sealing to preserve secrecy.

  6.2  One return envelope.

    —  Pre-printed return address on envelope.

    —  Self-sealing ballot paper can share a return envelope with the security statement.

  6.3  Bar-coding.

    —  Security statement and ballot paper both barcoded for matching.

    —  Ballot paper barcode viewable through window so can be scanned without opening the envelope.


  It would be very interesting to understand the reasoning behind why the DCA has apparently disregarded all the positive conclusions from the 2003 local election pilot projects—and chosen to scale up what is basically a manual exception process to become the supposedly responsible vehicle for successful 2004 elections.

  DocQwise Business Services Ltd. would like to take this opportunity to thank the Select Committee for taking this evidence and hope that our efforts will be seen as constructive input to the Government's Modernising Agenda in general and the Government's determination to raise the standards of Public Services in particular.

  7.1  The DCA proposed method:

    —  Does not scale well to large volumes (It is a manual exception process)

    —  Will be significantly more expensive to operate

    —  Is substantially more resource intensive within local councils (when sending out packs—but even more so on the returns)

    —  Is a challenge to execute within the timescales

    —  Incorporates none of the benefits found during the pilots 2003

    —  Has major integrity problems with high volumes of voter packages

    —  Is prone to voter errors and, crucially

    —  Does not serve the Public Interest and is not in accord with the Government's aims to improve the quality of delivery of public services as set out in the Modernising Government White Paper of 1999.

  7.2  The suggested method (following best practises from 2003 Pilots):

    —  Is simple to operate with high volumes

    —  Has no integrity problems using one-piece document

    —  Is easy for voter to complete

    —  Is easy to handle when returned

    —  Has shown dramatic increase in turnout (User friendliness increases turnout!)

    —  Will provide "best value" compared with the DCA proposal.

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