Postal voting – Just a little too easy?
Early out of the box for the upcoming election (May 6 – don’t miss it!) of a mayor of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) is Labour’s candidate, Mr Dan Norris.
Alongside his pitch – he’ll bring jobs to the area, re-train workers, re-build businesses, he pledges to be Britain’s most bee-friendly Metro mayor, adding that he hates cruelty to animals, has a cocker spaniel, and supports Bristol City FC – is what looks like a plea to voters to vote by post. ‘Vote safely, vote from home, vote Labour.’ Helpfully, he sends to residents the form they have to fill in if they want to apply for a postal vote.
Asking your local authority for a postal vote is as stress-free as ordering a pizza delivery. The only info asked for is name, registered address, address to which the ballot paper should be sent (with a brief explanation of why it might differ from the registered one), telephone number, e-mail address, optional), and date of birth. There’s a box to be ticked if people want to apply for a permanent vote usable at all elections and referendums.
Applicants are not asked to provide proof that they are eligible – by nationality or age – to vote. It all looks very, er, casual.
The case for postal voting is sound. It helps people who are disabled and those whose work or holiday arrangements prevent them getting to a polling station. But in England, Scotland, and Wales, no reasons now have to be given. It’s different in Northern Ireland where, says the Electoral Commission, ‘you must provide a valid reason as to why you can’t attend your polling station in person. This could be because of: illness, disability, holiday or work arrangements.’ So, it’s not so casual there.
There’s no evidence, says the Electoral Commission, that fraudulent postal voting is a danger to democracy. It says the number of fraud allegations is in the low hundreds and the number of convictions is even lower. It recognizes, however, the possibility that police forces might not have a ‘complete record of all activity which could involve electoral fraud offences.’ And, of course, the police have other crimes about which to worry.
MPs such as Steve Baker (Conservative) thinks it’s probable, not just possible, that dodgy postal voting is a bigger problem than the political parties and the Electoral Commission would have us believe.
‘The overwhelming majority of my constituents,’ he wrote in December 2019, ‘would be shocked if they knew the extent of corrupt election practices and voter fraud which happen each time there is an election.
There is widespread abuse of postal votes. In one case, private data held by a third party for legitimate purposes was used to apply for postal votes, and then intercepted before electors had a chance to complete them. The victims would not make a formal complaint as they feared retribution. I have received accounts of candidates visiting electors’ homes, demanding postal votes are completed in front of them, and then taking them away. I have testimony of one young woman’s unmarked postal vote being taken off her under duress by a relative and handed to a candidate. We learned about it because she wanted to cancel her postal vote so she could cast it again herself.
‘We cannot assume voters enjoy secrecy and freedom when marking a ballot paper at home. We have received reports that activists working on behalf of particular candidates have sought to procure votes for as little as £10, a free taxi or a free pizza. Again, we know some of these cases have been reported to the Police without prosecution taking place.
‘When one vote is stolen, or otherwise corrupted away, it’s not just a pencil mark on a piece of paper but is the inheritance of a tradition of liberty and equality fought for at great cost and handed down over centuries. If we fail to understand the magnitude of the importance of the corruption of even a single vote, then we are a politically bankrupt nation.’
The Bath Telegraph struggles to find one good reason for voting in the WECA mayoral election. It’s an unwanted and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. It would be good to know, however, that every vote that is cast is kosher.