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
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
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
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).
4.0 THE DCA PROPOSED
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:
(b) Ballot paper return envelope(numbered)
(c) Security statement(numbered)
(d) Return envelope(numbered)
(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
5.0 MAJOR DRAWBACKS
DCA PROPOSED METHOD
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
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
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.
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 projectsand
chosen to scale up what is basically a manual exception process
to become the supposedly responsible vehicle for successful 2004
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
7.1 The DCA proposed method:
Does not scale well to large volumes
(It is a manual exception process)
Will be significantly more expensive
Is substantially more resource intensive
within local councils (when sending out packsbut even more
so on the returns)
Is a challenge to execute within
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
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.