Postal Voting

Monday, April 11, 2005

Postal ballots could go to court; Labour "secretly dropped" reform bill last autumn

Apologies for no posts at the weekend, I was away. Anyway, here's quick news roundup: Although extra money has been promised to police to tackle postal voting fraud, The Independent on Sunday mentions as a footnote that ACPO chief Chris Fox has said no forces have seen any extra resources head their way. The main article mentions that over 100 (a sixth of all seats) have margins smaller than the number of votes, opening fears of Florida 2000-style court cases after the forthcoming election.

The Sunday Times, meanwhile, has an excellent in-depth investigation of postal voting. As well as summing up the Blackburn and Birmingham cases, the article highlights the main flaws of the system. They've been covered here before but it's worth re-listing them here:

  • Postal vote forms can be sent to any address, not just the registered ones.
  • Registration is done per household, not per individual, allowing householders to exaggerrate or outrightly lie over who lives at a residence
  • There is no record of voter identification (nor any legal requirement for councils to do so), making the signature on the ballot effectively useless
  • There are no rules on stopping campaigners and canvassers "helping" with either the registration or the submission of postal votes.
Individual registration, which would solve some but not all problems, has been advocated by police, the Electoral Commission and even cabinet committee level a few months ago; Labour have been considering reforming the system with a new bill last autumn. But a leaked memo from Peter Watt, head of Labour's constitutional and legal unit, vigorously opposed the proposals, fearing a lower turnout; never mind the valdidity of the ballot, Labour's election machinery is only concerned with getting their demographic out to vote. Another memo states:

"Labour supporters with a postal vote are four times more likely to vote than Labour supporters who vote at polling stations. If we can get them to apply for a permanent postal vote it helps our electoral prospects."

Labour quietly dropped the bill, probably because they werre more than happy for the status quo to continue. While the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have both promised reform of the system, Labour are still officially in denial over the flaws in the system - Tony Blair said the other day: "Overall, the postal voting system is no more prone to fraud than other electoral systems."

But there is hope - today's Times quotes Labour insiders as saying the bill will be resurrected if Labour win, thanks to the furore after Birmingham and Blackburn. Alas, the party is too embarrassed to say what a hideous mistake it is, so don't hold your breath for any official confirmation, yet.


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