Tag Archives: postal voting

Opinion: The best type of electoral reform

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 …

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Pendle investigates claims of postal vote fraud

News via the BBC:

The council’s chief executive Stephen Barnes had written a letter to the Electoral Commission last year, saying allegations and perceptions of malpractice around postal voting “are seriously undermining public confidence in the whole electoral process”.

In the letter, the council cited examples of probable malpractice and the difficulties in taking action…

The leader of the borough council’s Labour Group, Councillor Mohammad Iqbal, said his party had won seats from the Conservatives fairly, adding: “There isn’t a problem in Pendle”…

The panel, consisting of cross-party councillors and representatives, will gather evidence at five public hearings across the borough.

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A trio of very welcome election law changes on the way

Postal ballot paper being postedThe Queen’s Speech mentioned a Bill to introduce individual electoral registration (see this post if you’re not sure why individual electoral registration is a good thing). It also made vague reference to other electoral administration reforms. Now I’ve read the proposed Bill and seen what they are, I’m rather pleased – as they include three things I’ve often raised in previous election law consultations and on this blog.

First, extending the timetable for Parliamentary by-elections. As I’ve written before about this

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Our broken electoral timetable – or why Andrew Neil is too late

Along with many activists from all political parties, yesterday I was out on the doorsteps campaigning for votes with a special emphasis on targeting postal voters. For me that involved trips to Streatham and Haringey, both places where – as is common across London – postal ballot papers have been hitting people’s doormats on Friday and Saturday.

Many postal voters fill in their ballot papers promptly, so by this evening a noticeable chunk of the London electorate will have cast their votes. The same is true in many other parts of …

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How were the Scottish elections run?

The Electoral Commission’s report into May’s Scottish elections is now out and broadly paints a positive picture of how the elections were administered.

As is often the case in such reports, it is the apparently obvious recommendations that highlight how something, somewhere took a rather unfortunate turn. In the case of this report, one such recommendation is tucked way unobtrusively in the middle of p.8:

Following any boundary reviews ROs and EROs must make thorough checks with the relevant Boundary Commission to ensure they are able to precisely identify the exact boundaries that are set out in legislation.


(700 people in Glasgow were sent poll cards telling them to vote in the wrong place.)

On the big issue in many people’s minds ahead of the elections, the report rightly brings good news. The 2007 Scottish elections were marked by controversy over the much higher proportion of rejected ballot papers than for previous Scottish Parliament elections.

This time, aided in part by the use of different ballot paperwork, the rejection rates fell right back down to levels last seen in 1999.

Looking to the future, the paper echoes the Electoral Commission report on the AV referendum when it comes to following up invalid postal votes and also promises a discussion paper on the thorny issue of when elections should be counted.

Scottish Parliament Elections Report – Electoral Commission

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Electoral administration lessons from the AV referendum: the Electoral Commission’s view

Last week, the Electoral Commission published its report into the administration of the May’s AV referendum. Despite the high political temperatures during the campaign, the administration got little criticism at the time and so the report rightly reflects that. However, amongst the details are some important pointers to issues that are likely to come up at future elections.

10pm cut-off for voting

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Better postal voter security amongst Government’s proposed changes to election law

This week the government has put three new changes to election law out for consultation:

  • Ending the automatic postponement of parish and community council elections in England and Wales that currently occurs when they fall on the same day as ordinary local government elections and either a Parliamentary or European Parliamentary general election.
  • Mandate 100% checking of the personal identifiers for postal votes at elections (comparing the signatures and date of birth given when a postal vote is cast against the originals on file from the postal vote application). Although 100% is often recommended and done, the law only requires a

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The Independent View: Is it time to rethink postal voting?

Allegations emerged recently of voters in Rochdale being asked to hand postal ballots for the local elections to party representatives to complete and submit to the Returning Officer. A decade ago, this might have made the national news, but now such stories are probably too familiar to make the headlines.

While electoral fraud is not rife in the UK, the scale of the problem is almost impossible to estimate. One thing is for sure – the Rochdale case does not represent an isolated local difficulty.  Based on joint reporting by the Electoral Commission and the Association of Chief Police Officers …

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How to cast a postal vote

Given the number of queries that come my way, I thought I’d try a little public information film:

Posted in Election law | 2 Comments

Who gets a postal vote in the AV referendum?

Any voter can apply for a postal (or proxy) vote in the usual way for May’s elections, including the AV referendum. However, people who have previously applied for a permanent postal vote may also be entitled to one without having to re-apply.

There are three categories:

1. People who have a permanent postal vote for a UK Parliamentary election – they will get a referendum postal vote too.
2. People who have a permanent postal vote for a local election and are on the register for somewhere that is holding an election in May – they will get a referendum postal vote too …

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AV referendum: all households to be sent a booklet explaining the vote

Details of how the Electoral Commission proposes to administer next May’s referendum on the voting system (provided it passes Parliament) have emerged in a series of circulars issued by the Commission last week.

Electoral Commission logoSome of the details are likely to gain widespread welcome, including the extra anti-fraud step of requiring that 100% of postal votes are given extra security checks against original records (the law only requires a minimum of 20% and although many elections see 100% checking, not …

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Councillor cleared of postal vote fraud

A quick update about Walsall Conservative councillor Mohammed Munir, whose suspension from the party after postal vote fraud allegations were made we previously covered. His case has now gone to court and he was found innocent.

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It’s administrative blunders, not fraud, which should worry us most

The problems with electoral administration ranged far wider than those which caught the headlines. Perhaps the weirdest came in one polling station in Burnley where the caretaker was getting everyone turning up to vote to sign in and out of the building “for health and safety” reasons.

More seriously, there were queues of people left wanting to vote when the polls closed at 10pm last Thursday in Birmingham, Chester, Hackney, Islington, Leeds, Lewisham, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Weybridge. (If you were a voter caught up in these problems, the Electoral Commission wants to hear from you as part of …

Posted in Election law, Online politics and Op-eds | Also tagged | 10 Comments

Postal ballots are not the same as postal vote application forms

The Guardian today seems to confuse application forms for postal votes with the actual ballot papers that postal voters receive:

At the weekend David Monks, head of elections for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, called for a ban on political parties handling postal votes amid fears that activists are collecting ballot papers before forwarding them on in order to record the results in their canvassing process. This breaches a national code of conduct, but is not illegal.

Activists taking postal ballot papers and then recording the voting intention from them would leave them open to legal action (e.g. undue …

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Second police investigation into publication of postal vote information

During the week Alex Foster blogged about the case of Bristol East Labour MP Kerry McCarthy who is facing a police investigation following a tweet giving voting figures from a postal vote opening.* She subsequently deleted the tweet and apologised but we await the outcome of the police investigation.

I now hear there is a second police investigation taking place, this time into a Scottish blogger who published information that was apparently supplied by the SNP based on postal vote opening in several constituencies. The post (subsequently removed) appeared on SNP Tactical Voting and made reference to three different …

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Electoral administration isn’t going quite as well as it should…

First, the good news: all the reports so far indicated a strong surge in people registering just before the deadline earlier this month. The Independent has some further figures to add to earlier reports. Thankfully, Havering Council with its hostile approach to people using the Electoral Commission’s website seems to be very much the exception. Whilst its electoral division has called “ridiculous” the number of people registering at the last moment, other councils have welcomed the surge of interest rather than criticised it.

Then the not so good news…

Allegations of postal vote fraud: the scale of the allegations, …

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Postal voting under police scrutiny

There have been two further recent reports of police investigations into postal vote allegations:

Police to investigate claims of postal vote fraud in council poll
… A complaint has been sent by the Conservative party to Derbyshire police about suspected fraud in the Sinfin ward in the Derby City Council local elections – which will be held on May 6, the same day as the General Election.

The complaint involves concerns that a voter was approached by men requesting her to fill in and sign three postal voting forms in favour of the Labour party… (Derby Telegraph)

Police probe ‘voting fraud’ at Bethnal

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Note to agents: do not publish anything you learn at postal vote opening

Twitter has come alive in the last two hours with tweets and retweets of Labour’s new media Tsarina Kerry McCarthy, who appears to have attended a postal vote opening session in her constituency of Bristol East – and then tweeted her tally totals.

Just to be clear, this is illegal. You should not do it. If you are attending postal vote processing sessions or are an agent yourself, please make sure your entire team knows that anything you learn at that session cannot be shared.

Mark Pack has the full listing of the section of the law that applies

Posted in Election law and General Election | Also tagged and | 6 Comments

Postal voting: police to get tough over Code of Conduct

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 …

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Labour Party under fire for breaking Code of Conduct on postal voting

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:

Glasgow North East By-Election: Electoral Commission Report

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What do the latest electoral fraud figures reveal?

The Electoral Commission and police have just published a report into the allegations of electoral practice held in June 2009. What does the latest one show about the state of our electoral system?

The good news is that the headline figures for number of allegations and convictions are relatively modest:

  • A total of 48 cases involving 107 allegations were recorded by police forces across Great Britain.
  • The largest single case in Great Britain involved allegations that 24 photocopied ballot papers were sent to a Returning Officer in Aylesbury.
  • A total of 38 cases (79% of all reported cases) involved only one allegation against a single individual.

Less good is the degree to which time continues to be consumed and hassle generated by imprint issues. Just under one in five of all cases were about imprints. The occasional imprint case involves (alleged) serious abuse – passing off a leaflet as if it were from another party – but many involve simple clerical errors with not only no intent to deceive but with it being clear who the published material was from and how to contact the publisher/promoter.

It is a reminder that good intentions are not enough to keep election agents free from police cautions – or worse – but it is hard to see how this ends up being a good use of time for the police and CPS.

That is particularly so because other, more serious, cases can take a long time to be resolved. At the time of the report, just over a third of cases are still under police investigation or awaiting a decision by the CPS (Crown Office in Scotland). For allegations to be left hanging in the air so long after an election has concluded is highly unsatisfactory.

Of course, electoral law is by no means the only area of law to suffer from this problem and it is an oddity of the tough on crime rhetoric of the last few decades that speeding up the exercise of justice almost never features. Perhaps in part that is because the big losers are the innocent people who have police investigations or charges hanging over them for months and years, with the hurt, anger, disruption and depression that often goes with that. But the hurt and damage done to people who turn out to be innocent is only rarely talked about.

Both the question of imprint allegations clogging up the system and the speed of justice problems are not new and the 2009 round of elections does not seem to have thrown up any new problems or trends in electoral fraud.

With the measures taken over the last few years against postal vote fraud having had a good impact in most areas, the main danger for the future looks to be personation (stealing someone’s vote by turning up to the polling station and pretending to be them). Over a quarter of all cases and nearly half of all allegations arising from the June 2009 elections related to personation.

A plan to try tackling personation by requiring people to sign for their ballot papers (which would provide a paper trail, including finger prints, to help track down fraud as well as providing an extra security check) was previously abandoned in farcical circumstances. Although the law allowed polling station staff to ask for a signature, due to faulty drafting they would still have had to hand over a ballot paper even if someone refused to sign. Hence signing for ballot papers is still stuck in the starting blocks.

Here is the full Electoral Commission / police report:

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Electoral fact of the day: turnout and postal voting

In June’s European elections, turnout amongst postal voters was 64% in Great Britain. Turnout amongst non-postal voters was 30% – a full 34 percentage points lower. There’s a lesson in there about campaigning…

The figures for the different regions were:

South East 68% (+34%)
South West 68% (+33%)
East Midlands 67% (+34%)
Eastern 67% (+33%)
West Midlands 66% (+35%)
Scotland 63% (+39%)
Yorkshire & The Humber 63% (+37%)
North West 63% (+37%)
Wales 62% (+36%)
London 61% (+31%)
North East 59% (+38%)

The Isles of Scilly were the only area where turnout amongst postal voters was lower than that amongst non-postal voters (by two percentage points).

Source: Calculated from Electoral Commission data

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Four Bradford Conservative supporters go on trial for postal vote fraud

The Bradford Telegraph & Argus reports:

Four Conservative party supporters from Bradford tried to rig the voting system in the run-up to a General Election in a plot to “harvest” postal votes, a court heard today.

Mohammed Sultan, Mohammed Rafiq, Reis Khan and Jamshed Khan sent off for postal voting applications under false names or had legitimate applications re-directed to them, Leeds Crown Court heard.

Their aim was to get “their man” Haroon Rashid, 39, elected to the Bradford West seat in the 2005 General Election, said prosecutor Mark Ainsworth.

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Norwich North by-election report undermines the case for Friday counting

Cross-posted from The Wardman Wire:

Although this summer’s Parliamentary by-election in Norwich North kicked off much subsequent debate about the alleged benefits of Friday (rather than Thursday night) counts after it was counted on a Friday, a close reading of the Electoral Commission’s report into the Norwich North by-election reveals that in fact the Norwich experience undermines the case made for moving to Friday counts.

One of the arguments used for favouring Friday counts over Thursday nights is that the anti-postal vote fraud measures introduced in recent years mean that far more checking is required of postal votes than previously, …

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Slough Conservatives update: convictions upheld on appeal

An update on the tale of the six convicted for postal vote fraud in Slough, courtesy of the Maidenhead Advertiser:

A pair of election fraudsters jailed for the ghost vote scandal which rocked Slough politics have failed in an appeal against their convictions.

Tory candidate Raja Mohammed Eshaq Khan … admitted conspiracy to defraud and perjury at Reading Crown Court in January and was jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Mahboob Khan, 46, of Quinbrookes, Slough was convicted of conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury and jailed for four-and-a-half years.

At the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, both

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Tower Hamlets: Labour activist investigated over postal vote fraud

From the Evening Standard:

Police are investigating allegations of postal vote fraud by a London activist linked to one of Labour’s highest-profile parliamentary candidates.

The Met is examining an email in which Anisur Rahman, a Labour branch secretary in Tower Hamlets, admits “helping” a dozen voters fill in postal vote forms for the European elections.

Mr Rahman then told Rushanara Ali, who will become Britain’s first Bangladeshi MP if she is elected in Bethnal Green and Bow, that he was encouraging other activists to do likewise “for the benefit of the party”.

Electoral Commission guidelines ban activists from helping voters to fill in ballot

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Postal voting woes in West Sussex

Another tail of postal voting trouble; this time from West Sussex. In the Henfield ward ballot papers were printed and sent out to postal voters with the UKIP logo next to the Liberal Democrat candidate and with the Liberal Democrat logo against the Labour candidate. Corrected ballot papers have now been sent out.

UPDATE: Things also went wrong in Riverside ward, where the UKIP logo appeared next to the Peace candidate.

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Postal vote printers mess up in Cornwall

Perhaps the most basic requirement for a local election ballot paper is to the list all the candidates up for election. A bit of a problem then that ballot papers have been going out in several parts of Cornwall with the bottom candidate missing – because the paper was cut in the wrong place by the printers.

As a result, for example, one resident reported that they had binned their ballot paper because they wanted to vote Liberal Democrat, hadn’t found a candidate of ours on the ballot paper and so decided they didn’t want to vote.

The authorities are reacting in …

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How not to do postal votes

All things considered, not the wisest of choices by the new Wiltshire Council to send out examples of how to complete your ballot paper which show someone voting Conservative:

Wiltshire postal votes

A particularly odd decision given how common instructions are which show dummy party and candidate names.

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Lib Dem cleared of postal vote fraud allegations

Welcome news from Birmingham regarding postal votes (not a phrase I’ve often typed…):

A former Liberal Democrat candidate has been cleared of forging 12 postal votes application forms.

It had been alleged that Mohammed Khan, who stood for election in the Nechells area in the 2006 local elections, was involved in the fraud in order to further his own election prospects. (Birmingham Post)

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