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Did postal voting lead to a lower overall turnout?

May 17th, 2005

    Why did so many on the postal list not vote?

The move to extend postal voting was said to have been Labour’s “big idea” to deal with ongoing challenge that many more people say they support the party than actually vote for it.

There is little hard evidence available but looking at what information we have from May 5th and hearing anecdotal reports the question has to be asked as to whether the five-fold increase in applications for postal votes before May 5th might have led to reduced overall turnout levels?

    In Birmingham, which admittedly is a special case, it was reported that only about two thirds of those who applied actually returned the completed ballot forms. But from other reports it seems that there might have been similar low response rates elsewhere amongst those who had requested to vote by post.

Given that those who have gone to the trouble of applying for a postal vote in the first place have indicated some desire to take part in the election then something is wrong, surely, if a significant proportion could not be bothered to return the completed ballots?

No doubt there’ll be some serious studies of the impact of one in six electors applying to vote in this way and it will be interesting to see if this is borne out. But my hunch is that three factors were at play here:-

  • The process of voting by post is quite cumbersome. You have to mark the ballot paper and then put it in one envelope. Then you have to fill in a form and get your signature witnessed and finally you have to put all the bits together and ensure that it is put in the mail. If there were local elections in your area as well then all this had to be done twice over.
  • The aftermath of the Birmingham case caused the parties to be extra careful about how they handled postal voters and there was not the usual effort, as in previous elections, to contact them before May 5th to make sure they had got their votes in.
  • The publicity about postal voting during the campaign may have caused some on the postal list to feel that in some way their vote would be “devalued” and therefore there was less point in returning the envelope.
  • What’s been the experience of other people on the site? This is a debate that will contiune.

    Mike Smithson






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