As a young councillor in Manchester in 1999, I was often suspicious of a postal vote system that allowed people, who couldn’t make it to the ballot box to be able to vote by post. It’s not that I wanted to curtail anyone’s democratic rights – it was just that I wanted to ensure the system was safe from electoral fraud.
Since 2001, here in the UK – you can vote by post without giving a reason. ‘Bringing the ballot box to your doorstep’, argued some, ‘Putting the convenience back into politics’, said others. Now, I’ve no problem with the elderly nor the disabled having their vote delivered to them. After all, they have every right to be involved in our democracy. A ballot paper delivered through your letter box however needs to be returned to a post box – so it doesn’t quite make sense. An easy journey there – a difficult expedition back.
Postal Voting ‘on-demand’ is the biggest threat to a democratic Britain for generations. We’ve seen stories of alleged postal vote fraud on a massive scale. There have apparently been warehouses set up to fill them in, up to 10 people supposedly living in 2 or 3 bedroom flats and police investigations that have proved inconclusive.
Yes, some people have been caught red handed – look at the case of the ‘Birmingham 3’ in 2005. They described their guilty verdicts as… wait for it, “A dark day for democracy” – but whose democracy? Senior judge Richard Mawrey QC proclaimed that it would disgrace a “banana republic”. In 2010, 5 people were jailed in an ultimately failed attempt to get their candidate elected in Bradford West.
So what has happened since? Well, err… nothing. This is despite allegations flying around left, right and centre. Administrations like the one in Tower Hamlets amongst others are dogged by suspicions of electoral fraud. Dead people voting, unfeasibly large households are not uncommon – especially in our urban areas.
Sadly, we’ve not been able to change the electoral system. A huge defeat to change to a fairer voting system, a failure to reform the undemocratic House of Lords and boundary changes not being implemented.
So what is the best type of electoral reform? An end to the ‘free for all’ postal voting system would be a good start. YES, if you are not well enough to get to a polling station… NO – if you can’t be bothered to wander down to your local polling booth between 7am and 10pm on Polling Day!
* Dave Hennigan is a Lib Dem member in Macclesfield (formerly Levenshulme)