Police forces across England and Wales are teaming up with local councils in a welcome move to encourage agents and candidates to abide by the Postal Voting Code of Conduct. They will be sending letters to agents and candidates asking them to personally sign up to the Code of Conduct.
In previous years the Code has been a national agreement negotiated by the Electoral Commission with, on the one hand, electoral administrators and, on the other, the main political parties. The involvement of both parties and administrators means the Postal Voting Code of Conduct strikes a balance between recognising the genuine role that parties have in encouraging people to sign up and use their postal votes yet also recognising the danger of rogue individuals or campaigns threatening the fairness of the election.
As a result, for example, the Code says it is acceptable for political parties to issue postal vote application forms but also says that any forms returned to parties must be sent on to the relevant local council within two working days.
All the main parties have signed up to the national Code in previous years. However, this in effect has left out minor parties and independent candidates from its scope, whilst also providing individual agents or candidates from one of the main parties the potential excuse, regardless of how hard a party has publicised it, that “I didn’t know I was meant to follow it”.
The police initiative will, however, remove these excuses. Although abiding by the Code of Conduct on Postal Voting is voluntary, and therefore anyone may decline to sign up to it, this will leave them vulnerable to bad publicity.
Liberal Democrat HQ has confirmed that as in previous years, because the party has nationally signed up to the Code, failure to follow the code would be a breach of party rules that could result in expulsion from the party. Therefore declining to sign up in response to the police letters would also be viewed in the same light. A mailing is currently going out to candidates and agents on this matter.