Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
9 MARCH 2004
Q80 Mrs Laing: Mr Chairman, with respect,
that is exactly the point that I want to follow up. If there is
no verification, there is no witness's signature, so, if somebody
wanted to gather together quite a few postal vote forms and put
a different sort of signature on each one, they could do so and
it is very unlikely that their fraud would be detected.
Mr Crawford: That is right.
Q81 Chairman: Could I have a clear answer.
You are saying yes.
Mr Crawford: Yes.
Q82 Mr Clelland: That probably brings
us to the question of the design and the printing of the volume
of material which has to go out. The way it is designed and the
way it is printed will be quite crucial in terms of security,
its accessibility by disabled people, and in terms of the administration
of the ballot. How do you balance these pressures?
Mr Morris: We are ensuring in
the pilot areas that the envelopes will be readily identifiable.
They will have purple flashes on them, by agreement with the Royal
Mail, so that it is clear what they are and where they are in
Q83 Chairman: You can guarantee that
no political party uses purple flashes as their logo, can you?
Mr Morris: I am not sure that
one can guarantee anything in this process, Chairman, with potentially
17 or 18 political parties, but we will have some means of readily
identifying them in that sense. A lot of time has been spent on
the discussion of the ballot paper, whether it should be landscape,
portrait or whateverand I think it is fair to say that
that has been broadly settled nowbecause clearly the ballot
paper is not an issue that is special particularly to the pilot
areas; that is a general discussion of national significance.
There is some concern about the requirement, for example, to print
all the names in lists, because of the physical size, and, quite
obviously, once you start going into a seriously large paper,
bigger certainly than A3 or much longer than can readily be handled,
then a different kind of issue arises. A lot of our assumptions
about opening, bar-coding, limiting manual handling are based
on techniques like window envelopes and hoping that the bar code
is visible and so on and so forth. The more folding there is to
do, the more likely it is quite clearly that the envelope can
come back in the wrong order, even if everything is in fact there
correctly. I think, in the North East, Bill Crawford's experience
previously was that more of these things were there to be worried
about than actually were experienced on the day. But, clearly,
in an area where there has not been as much experience of these
pilot areas, we are vulnerable, as witnesses said earlier, to
people not properly understanding the system that we are using,
so the more identifiable it is, the more plain our English can
be, the more simple the instructions are able to be made, the
better. But when you are into combinationand some of our
colleagues are running three layers of elections on 10 Junequite
clearly there is a limit to what you can do to put that across
to people because different systems are running simultaneously.
Q84 Mr Clelland: Are you satisfied there
are not going to be any particular problems with all-postal voting
for disabled people, for instance?
Mr Morris: There are always going
to be some people who find it difficult to read or read certain
colours and so on. We are trying our best to overcome those difficulties.
I suspect that there are quite a lot more people who are not comfortable,
shall we say, with forms and text and reading instructions and
who are perfectly capable physically of reading the material but
do not take it in. However, as I have said before, I think the
experience of colleagues in other areas has been that you have
to have a sense of proportion about these difficulties. But most
of the public do it most of the time and if people really want
to they will
Mr Pitt: All different forms of
elections bring with them different disability problems. Obviously,
with traditional elections there is a mobility disability issue
there, and with postal ballots a sight disability, and so on.
Certainly from Wakefield's point of view we will put in place
whatever arrangements we can to assist people with disability
difficulties to take part in democratic processes.
Q85 Mr Clelland: On at least two occasions
last year electoral officers sent back incomplete declarations
of identity to individuals but held on to the ballot papers pending
the return of the completed declaration. Do you think that is
Mr Crawford: We did that, Chairman,
in the Sunderland pilot, and it worked very well.
Q86 Mr Clelland: So that would be a practice
to be commended, would it?
Mr Crawford: Yes, Chairman.
Q87 Chairman: You, in effect, were opening
the envelope that they were returning and looking at the declaration
but not looking at the ballot paper?
Mr Crawford: That is correct,
Q88 Mr Betts: Do you think that fraudulent
activity, such as "farming" votes by political parties,
is going to be more of an issue with postal ballots?
Mr Morris: I see no reason why
it should, Chairman. I have to say, my experience over 30 years
with all the principal political parties is that they are much
more concerned with getting the vote out and complying with the
rules. It is not my experience that there is much that you could
call a deliberate attempt to subvert the requirements. Of course
the possibility exists and one has to be on guard, but very often
the publicity that, perhaps, some candidates think they can achieve
outweighs their sense of judgment on occasions. It is relatively
small scale and I think we are on guard for it.
Q89 Mr Betts: Do you have any problems
in Sunderland with that?
Mr Crawford: There were no problems
Q90 Mr Betts: One thing this inquiry
has been quite keen about is the idea that with a traditional
election they can obviously find out, by putting people on polling
stations, who has voted or how they have voted. In some of the
postal elections the Returning Officers issued, on a daily basis,
a list of people who have voted. Would that be something you would
be prepared to do? Would that be something that would cause you
Mr Crawford: That, again, was
part of the Sunderland pilot, Chairman, and it worked successfully.
Q91 Mr Betts: Did you have any complaints
or letters about that?
Mr Crawford: Not one.
Q92 Mr Betts: Not a single complaint?
Mr Crawford: Not one.
Q93 Chairman: In Sunderland, how much
canvassing was done? It does not strike me as a place where probably
all that much canvassing was done. Perhaps that is a slur on Sunderland.
Mr Crawford: I will not take it
as such, Chairman. There was great interest by all of the candidates
to want to receive information up until the weekend before the
election. It was a hive of activity over the weekend to chase
Q94 Mr Betts: So you think, if you like,
there is a contract between the various parties and the electors
where the Returning Officer gives to the political parties a list
of the people who have voted on a daily basis and in return they
promise to those people who have voted no more leaflets, no more
'phone calls, no more knocking on doors, and that would be a good
deal for everyone?
Mr Crawford: I think they concentrated
their efforts on the people who had not returned their vote.
Q95 Mr Betts: Does anybody else see any
problems with that?
Ms Mason: No. I think as long
as the regulations are drafted properly, and that we are covered
and not left in a vulnerable position in terms of electors not
having that choice any more, then I do not see a problem with
Q96 Chairman: I understand that is not
to be done for these pilots for the European Elections. Is that
Ms Mason: I do not know.
Mr Morris: Chairman, the last
time I saw the Bill as it left the House of Lordsand I
am slightly out-of-date, probably, on the last couple of days'
development on thatit was going to be a requirement. I
think from our point of view, it either is required or it is not.
As has just been said by Ms Mason, we simply need some clear instructions.
I am sure we can do it effectively in accordance with whatever
rules are determined. The issue about whether it should be done,
I think, is a matter of policy, and you can take a view on that,
but that is not really the approach that we will have when we
manage the process that we are given.
Q97 Chairman: In fact, there will be
a gap, will there not, between the electorate putting the cross
on the ballot paper and putting it in the post box and you getting
it back and being able to cross them off and notifying the parties.
So there is a danger that some people who voted will still have
people knocking on their doors trying to encourage them to vote.
Mr Morris: Inevitably.
Q98 Christine Russell: Can I ask you
about Royal Mail? I was going to ask you about the procurement
of stationery and different suppliers, but you seem to be satisfied
that you can handle that. I would be interested to know how confident
you are that Royal Mail will handle the volume of ballot papers
that they will have to distribute and return. What has been the
experience from the pilots?
Mr Pitt: We are in discussion
at the moment with the Royal Mailin probably what is known
in Parliamentary circles as a "full and frank exchange of
views". I think the issue is not so much their capacity,
in terms of quantity; it is the speed and the level of servicewhether
there are collections on the final day, and so on. Obviously,
having those discussions at this early stage, I am confident that
we will reach an accommodation with them. The key pointit
is less so for Royal Mail than for all the suppliersis
that they simply realise the magnitude of the task and the fact
that it is not, if you like, a normal contract; it is a contract
of very considerable significance where any errors are magnified.
We are in discussion with Royal Mail at the moment and I am confident
that they can deal with the scale of it. We just need to make
sure that the speed of response is there and agreed well before
the election takes place.
Q99 Christine Russell: Are any of you
aware of the special Sunday deliveries? What did you do with Royal
Mail Sunderland? Were they just delivered regularly as part of
the post, or did you have one day when the Royal Mail delivered
them as a special delivery?
Mr Crawford: Royal Mail were given
a window of three days to do that. That is what they are looking
at for this time.
Mr Pitt: The only problem with
a three-day window is that people who get their papers on the
first day would talk to friends and colleagues who will then worry
that they have not got their papers and 'phone up the electoral
offices, and that is when the difficulty arises. So the more that
time period is compressed the easier it is for our electoral teams.
Mr Morris: We have had to distinguish,
I must say, between the national discussions in which I have taken
part (and I have mentioned that already) and the local situation.
The Northampton sorting office was destroyed by fire last autumn
and the service has suffered hugely since. Quite clearly, we have
got to translate the national principles into the local reality,
but that is true of lots of aspects of our work.