Individual Electoral Registration and Electoral Administration - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

5  Postal and proxy voting

61. Currently, electors who want to register for a postal or proxy vote have to provide the personal identifiers of a signature and a date of birth. These identifiers then have to be replicated by the elector when they cast their postal vote, and the returning officer verifies them against the original samples. Electors who wish to vote by proxy must submit a form setting out why they need to vote by proxy. In some situations, this must be co-signed by a qualified person, such as a doctor. Those who are nominated as proxies must also be eligible to vote in the relevant election.

62. As part of its consultations on electoral administration, the Government is proposing to alter the rules for proxy voting. We consider these proposals in Chapter 8 of this Report. We consider here the impact of the Government's proposals for individual electoral registration on those who use postal and proxy votes, especially those who may have no alternative to using them.

Transitional arrangements

63. Under the Government's proposals, "electors with an absent [postal or proxy] vote who fail to register under IER in 2014 will automatically lose the right to use this method of voting".[57] This change carries risks that people who are currently registered for a postal or proxy vote may be unaware of the new requirements and become disenfranchised in 2015. This could have a particular impact on the elderly, the disabled, and those in residential care.

64. The Electoral Commission will run the campaign informing electors of the transition to individual electoral registration. We believe that particular attention will be paid to the need to make the information campaign accessible to all, and to target it towards groups who tend to rely on postal and proxy votes to exercise their right to vote.

65. When asked why IER would come into force before the 2015 General Election for postal and proxy voters, the Minister stated that the perception and risk of fraud associated with postal voting was too great for the Government to consider extending the 'carry-forward' for postal voters. He told us "it will be made very clear to people who have a postal vote that, if they do not take the trouble to register individually, they will still be on the register. They will still be able to vote, but they will not have the opportunity to vote by post".[58] He added that the Government was working with groups representing the elderly to ensure that they were aware of the changes to the registration requirements for postal voting.[59]

66. Electoral administrators and returning officers expressed concern about the proposal not to carry forward existing postal and proxy registrations for elections in 2015, given that postal voters, unlike those voting in person, already provide a date of birth and a signature as identifiers.[60] John Turner told us that the AEA "cannot see any logic" in the proposal.[61] As evidence from Scope and Mind suggests,[62] many of those who have an absent vote would struggle to vote in person, and some may also have difficulty in completing the individual registration process. We recommend that the Government look closely at applying the same carry-forward arrangements for the 2015 General Election to postal and proxy registrations as to other registrations, to avoid inadvertently disenfranchising vulnerable electors.

Requirement for a signature

67. The current requirement to supply a signature when applying for and casting a postal vote has, according to disability charity Scope, "caused particular challenges for disabled people who may not be able to make a distinctive mark or sign in a consistent manner".[63] The requirement for a signature does not prove the eligibility of the postal voter, only that the same signature has been provided on the application and subsequent postal vote.

68. People's signatures often change over time, particularly in old age. John Turner, Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, gave us anecdotal evidence that many postal votes were rejected because of signatures failing to match

    "the current postal voter identifier process, of itself, lends to disenfranchisement because of this matching of signatures and dates of birth, where the data was given up to five years ago". [64]

69. We recommend that the Government take the opportunity provided by the introduction of individual registration to consider dropping the requirement of a signature as a personal identifier to cast a postal vote, once IER is well-established. This is because of the unreliability of the signature as a personal identifier, and because those electors wishing to cast a postal vote under IER will already have had their identity verified by other means.

57   Cm 8108, para 79 Back

58   Q 263 Back

59   Q 263 Back

60   Q 147 Back

61   Q 152 Back

62   Ev w19 Back

63   Ev 81  Back

64   Q 182 Back

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Prepared 4 November 2011