The Electoral Commission’s report into the November 2009 Parliamentary by-election in Glasgow North East has condemned the Labour Party for breaking the Code of Conduct on postal voting, saying the party repeatedly failed to process postal vote forms promptly.
The Code allows parties to distribute to the public forms for signing up to postal votes and to have them returned to a party address. This makes sense in circumstances such as the forms being in with a mailing which also asks for donations to the campaign where giving two different return addresses could result in items going to the wrong place and council staff having to send on political donations to the right address.
However, to guard against misuse the Code – whose provisions the Labour Party has been consulted on annually and each year said it consents to – requires such forms to be passed on by a political party within two working days of receipt.
In Glasgow North East this deadline was broken by the Labour Party and the Electoral Commission says that, “When the Commission reported the concerns that the party had unduly delayed the return of applications for postal votes to the ERO, his staff undertook a spot-check of those applications and discovered that more than 100 forms had been signed and dated by the elector more than a week earlier, and in some cases, more than one month earlier.”
The Labour Party has however defended its actions, with The Guardian reporting that, “The commission’s conclusions were vigorously challenged by the Labour party, which will be asking the commission to justify its report’s conclusions, a spokesman disclosed. He said the report had ignored the significant impact on the delivery of postal vote applications by the postal strike, which had seriously affected every party’s campaign, despite this being highlighted in meetings between Labour and commission officials.”
The Commission was also critical of the long delay by Labour before calling the by-election. “The procedures for calling a by-election are complex and in this instance led to voters being without an MP for nearly five months,” said Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission. “The Electoral Commission believes the UK Parliament should consider how long a Westminster seat should be able to remain vacant to ensure voters can elect a new MP in a timely way.”
You can read the full report here: