Labour in legal hot water over poll cards

Dating back to times when unscrupulous campaigns issues fake poll cards directly people to the wrong places to vote, the law says:

No person shall for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of any candidate at a parliamentary election issue any poll card or document so closely resembling an official poll card as to be calculated to deceive (1983 Representation of the People Act)

Although the original motivation for that legislation is now long in the past, it’s still the law in force – and so the law campaigns have to follow. As The Times has pointed out, using leaflets uploaded to The Straight Choice, complaints are being made to the police over poll card like literature produced by both Labour and the Conservatives in Islington and also Labour in Southwark.

The Conservative card has several points in its defence as you can see:

Conservative poll card - front

Conservative poll card - rear
(Source:
The Straight Choice)

This one doesn’t say “Poll card” on it and nearly all of the content is clearly different from that on an official poll card. Based on previous similar cases, the Conservatives are likely to be in the clear on this.

However, Labour’s situation is rather murkier:

Labour poll card - front

Labour poll card - front

Labour poll card - rear

Source: The Straight Choice here and here

Labour’s situation is much trickier. Phrases such as “Polling card” and “Take this polling card” clearly make it rather hard to argue that these items aren’t presenting themselves as if they were polling cards. Whether the items are designed to deceive is likely to be the crux of the issue.

Labour in London has form on this issue. Back in a Camden council by-election held in December 2006, Labour distributed envelopes saying “Urgent: poll card inside” containing letters which said “The polling card sent with this letter…” and with a polling card like insert. As that by-election was won very handsomely by the Liberal Democrats, the local team did not (as far as I’m aware) pursue this issue with the police at the time.

This time however it looks as if the legal system will have to come to a view about whether saying an item is a poll card breaks the law as the folks behind The Straight Choice say they’ve reported all three leaflets about to the police.

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9 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th May '10 - 1:40pm

    I have received something almost identical to that Tory example from the Lib Dems today. However, it does say (albeit in fairly small type) “This is not an official Poll Card”.

  • Bill Miller 5th May '10 - 2:48pm

    I agree that both Labour cards look distinctly suspect, describing themselves as polling cards, whereas the Conservative one looks pretty innocuous and very unlikely to deceive or mislead.

  • Tony Greaves 5th May '10 - 3:36pm

    I agree. The Tory card is not illegal. The Labour one is clearly illegal because it does what Poll Cards are designed to do – tell people their number.

    In the days before Councils issued poll cards at council elections (1974) we used to write out and deliver poll cards for those elections (not illegal if the Council did not do it).

    The primary purpose of a poll card is not to tell people where to go to vote (though that is the secondary purpose) or provide them with a map, it’s to tell them their number.

    Tony Greaves

  • Mark;

    I have one from the conservatives in Battersea which has a register number on it. It tells me to give the card to the teller at the polling station.

    The header is ‘Parliamentary and Local Elections – 6th May 2010’ and the line on the bottom is ‘Where to vote. When to vote.’

    Judging by your and Tony’s comments, this is dodgy?

    Tom

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th May '10 - 9:33pm

    “The Labour one is clearly illegal because it does what Poll Cards are designed to do – tell people their number.”

    I’m afraid my Lib Dem one does that too!

  • I received a “polling card” from the Conservatives which looks identical to the official card apart from the very small print hidden at the bottom of the card. I also had a text from them this morning! How on earth did they get my private number? These tactics have made it even less likely that I would even consider voting Tory.

  • @Sonja – “I also had a text from them this morning! How on earth did they get my private number?”

    Hopefully because you gave it to them, and you also gave them explicit permission to send you automated messages via SMS. if you didn’t then they’re in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 and you can complain to the Information Commissioner.

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