Who’ll lose most if “vote farming” is banned?
With the outcome of this May’s local elections taking on an increasing importance a key factor could be whether there is a clamp-down on party workers getting involved in the postal vote process. For when turnout drops to 30% or below winning the postal vote battle becomes even more crucial.
Now, according to a Guardian report, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives are pressing the government to put a “national concordat” in place to stop activists interfering with the postal ballot process.
It is reported that ministers will announce a national voluntary agreement before May but those responsible for administering elections believe that there has to be compulsion.
For at the heart of the problem is that the process of voting by post is quite cumbersome for the voter and if the party machines do not get involved then far fewer people will cast their ballots in this way thus reducing turnout even further.
First you have to fill in forms to apply for a postal vote.
Then when you get your pack you have to mark the ballot paper and then put it into envelope number one.
Then you have to fill in a form and get your signature witnessed by someone who has to provide their address.
Finally you have to put all the bits together into envelope number two and ensure that it is put in the mail.
Is it any wonder that even at the General Election only three out of five people who had applied for postal votes in some seats actually used them.
But last May, in the post-Birmingham environment, activists were much less likely to visit those registered as postal voters to make sure that everything way OK.
For many on the postal list the problem of finding a witness can be critical. It is here where a normal follow-up by the party machine could be very helpful. An enthusiastic party worker can take away all the hassle of getting all the bits of paper together, act as a witness, and then ensure that the package is put in the post.
It is this process that those responsible for running elections want to stop. For there are fears that if the party workers call round to collect the postal ballot packages then they might put the elector under undue influence and even fail to send on those “not voting the right way”.
Labour believes that it is the main beneficiary from moves to boost turnout and is opposed to anything that makes postal voting more difficult. But there could be a political cost if it’s not seen to be taking action after last year’s Birmingham vote fraud case.
My guess is that Ministers will resist a compulsory approach leaving open the possibility of another Birmingham. For if Labour is right about the electoral impact of easier postal voting this could affect the results on May 4th.