Postal Voting, What Goes On

well_chuffed, Going Postal
Rob Sinclair – Licence CC BY 2.0

Postal Voting has been brought into disrepute with the wholesale abuse of the system by various sections of the population. The mechanics of handling the postal vote are time consuming and certainly not cheap. The following description has been extracted from  the Electoral Commission Guidelines on Absent Voting, freely available on’t net.

Since 2000 Postal Voting on demand has been available in the UK. Previously it was only allowed for certain reasons, the Blair regime opened the floodgates. In historical context, the secret ballot was not introduced until 1872 (used to be a show of hands à la Red Robbo) and the first postal voting was introduced in 1918 for servicemen who would not be able to vote at a poll. The Guidelines intriguingly refer to postal voters as absent voters.

Postal Voting is a fairly simple exercise but for those who need some assistance your friendly local Imam will be pleased to help you.

Some abbreviations used here

  • RO Returning Officer
  • (A)RO Acting Returning Officer
  • ERO Electoral Registration Officer

How does it work

Obviously you need to be a registered voter and all you do is submit a form to the Electoral Registration Office at your local authority. This is a standard form and can be downloaded from the local authority website. You fill in your name, address, date of birth and provide a specimen signature. You must provide this application at least 11 working days before the poll takes place. You can specify you always want a postal vote, only for one election or give a start and end date.

Up to six working days before the election a postal voter may appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf (any statistics on these
numbers might be interesting). A voter may not have more than one proxy at a time. A proxy is not entitled to vote for more than two electors who are not close relatives (they are all bruvvers innit). Close relatives include spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child or grandchild.

For anonymous votes the postal ballot pack should be sent in an envelope that does not disclose the voter is registered anonymously. The postal voting statement must also omit the elector’s name.

Getting the ballot papers out

The printing and issuing processes can be outsourced! The mind boggles, one can imagine who (c/o the local mosque) would provide the lowest quotes!

The ERO has to produce a plan of how this will be managed including number of staff, venue and layout. The required equipment listed is

  • Ballot papers, statements and envelopes
  • Postal Voters’ list and Proxy Voters’ list
  • Stamping instruments to add the official mark to ballot papers
  • Corresponding number list
  • Sets of envelopes for the corresponding number list
  • Statement of Postal Votes issued
  • Control sheets to document number issued and dispatched
  • Staff signature sheet to check off staff attending
  • Labelled trays
  • Fingerettes (filth !)
  • Assorted stationery, pens, pencils, bulldog and paper clips, rubber bands, adhesive tape and rulers (offices like wot they used to be in my yoof).

The returned votes will have to be opened and processed , this will also require

  • Scanners
  • Extension leads
  • Printer(s)
  • Projector and screen
  • Laptop
  • Rejected stamp and pad
  • Assorted stationery.

The Postal Ballot packs can be delivered either by post or by hand. If by hand , ensure the staff are aware of the data protection considerations.

Postal votes can be delivered to overseas addresses !!!!!!! If it is determined that it is impractical to deliver and receive back the postal vote in time , the ERO should contact the voter to appoint a proxy.

Sending the ballots out may be done before the 11 working day deadline so any later requests up to the 11 day deadline will need to be handled individually. It seems that the production of the ballot papers and envelopes is unique to each postal voter. It must cost a fortune to keep going back to the printer with dribs and drabs. There must be a case for charging the voter for a postal vote , if not going back to the previous system where a valid reason was required to qualify.

The issuing of the postal ballot packs may be attended by Electoral Commission representatives and accredited observers. They must be given access to witness the process.

Postal vote opening sessions

Sounds like an excuse for a drink but it is deadly serious. The ERO has to plan sessions when the postal votes will be opened. The number and frequency will be based on previous experience allied with noting the leader debates may influence when voters post their vote. Candidates and their agents must be informed at least 48 hours in advance so they can be present at these opening sessions.

Producing Postal Vote stationery

The corresponding number list is a list of ballot paper to unique identifying mark on all ballot papers. Each time ballot papers are printed a new list must be created. The list must be sealed in a packet and can only be opened and inspected by the order of a court.

The ballot papers and envelopes can be printed in-house or outsourced. If outsourced then staff should be available to check their output as it is produced and ensure data protection is not breached.

The names and addresses on the output should be checked , the names of the candidates , the official marks and there is no bleeding of ink. There needs to be an audit trail of these checks so you can referent back if any issues arise later.

If contracted out the contract must specify the contractors obligations with regard to security , confidentiality , delete and return all personal data at the end of the contract.

The contents of a postal ballot pack

All eligible voters must receive one of the packs consisting of

  • The outgoing envelope
  • The return envelopes, one for the ballot paper, the other to hold the ballot paper one and the postal voting statement.
  • One ballot paper
  • One Postal Voting statement

Those entitled to vote by post most also be informed how get

  • a translation into another language
  • a translation into braille
  • a graphical representation of the instructions
  • the directions in any other form including audible form.

The ballot paper and postal voting statement

The ballot paper has legally defined requirements but should be a different colour to the ballot papers used in the polling station.

The voting statement tells the voter how to vote postally. It contains instructions on how to complete the ballot paper, the name of the elector (unless anonymous) and the number of the ballot paper. There should also be a box for a signature unless the voter has a waive, granted usually on the grounds of disability or inability to write.

The instructions must detail putting the ballot paper inside one envelope and placing that envelope along with the statement inside the other envelope.

The issuing process

The objective is to know what has gone out and what has come back.

The Elector List has code A against a voter who has chosen a postal vote. The number list mentioned above should contain the elector number and the corresponding ballot number and unique identifying mark on the envelope. The number of the postal ballot paper must be on the associated statement. The address is shown in the postal voters list or the postal proxy voters list. For an anonymous voter the address can be found in the records of granted applications. This means there are three places the address for a postal vote might be found.

A mark must be placed on the postal voters list to show that a pack has been issued. The list of corresponding numbers must be sealed in a packet as soon as possible after the issuing is complete.

Again, an audit trail of numbers of packs issued needs to be kept.

The packs should the be sent by Royal Mail, another provider or delivered by hand. This also requires an audit trail.

While this is going on, new postal voters may be applying and new proxies may be appointed.

It is possible to re-issue postal ballot packs in these circumstances

  • To replace a spoilt pack, ballot paper or statement
  • To replace a lost or not received postal ballot pack
  • To correct a procedural error

The procedures for re-issue are long and detailed with many checks, too many to document here but you can use your imagination if you are still awake.

The other thing that a voter can do to cause maximum disruption is to cancel their request for a postal vote. The postal ballot pack may have already been sent and so must be cancelled.

Receiving Postal Votes

Postal ballot packs can only be returned to the Returning Officer by hand or post or by hand to any polling station in the constituency. The returned ballots must be kept securely and transported securely to the verification and count venues.

There are two storage ballot boxes, one to hold the returned ballot packs, the other to hold packs that have been through the opening process. Yet again there must be an audit trail of receiving and opening the postal ballot packs.

Both the postal voters and proxy voters lists must be marked when a statement is received even if there is no ballot paper. If requested the voter must be informed that their ballot pack has been received.

Opening Postal Votes

The people entitled to be present at the opening of the postal votes are

  • Candidates
  • Election Agents
  • Postal Voting Agents
  • Electoral Commission representatives
  • Accredited observers

The candidates must be given at least 48 hours notice in writing of an opening session. During an opening session the ballot papers must be kept face down so nobody can see the votes on the front of the papers.

Stage 1 – count the number of returned ballot packs , that is the number of the second envelopes in the box. Open the envelope and remove the statement. Check the number on the statement matches the number on the envelope. Mark the postal voters list to show that a statement has been returned.

Stage 2 – check the personal identifiers. Check that the elector has signed the statement and given a date of birth.Check these against the personal identifiers record. If they don’t match then reject the statement , allow the agents to see if they agree , they may object to the rejection.

Stage 3 – opening the postal ballot paper envelopes. Check number on the back of the ballot paper , kept face down at all times , matches the number on the envelope. Place the ballot paper in the postal ballot box.

Stage 4 – seal the postal ballot box recording the number of ballot papers that are in each box.

The number of postal votes still to be opened on polling day should be kept to a minimum so as it doesn’t delay the verification and counting process.

Rejected Postal Ballots

There are various reasons why a postal ballot may be rejected. The details and counts must be recorded and candidates and agents must be shown those rejected and told the reason why.

Where fraud is suspected the ballot pacs should be packaged separately and the local police single point of contact informed.

My two cents worth

With the best will in  the world there are holes all over the place in this procedure. My view is that we should revert to the previous system where you could get a postal vote but only in limited circumstances. Nobody can have confidence our democratic system is truly functioning with all this palaver. It looks like they have tried to design a foolproof system but it is wide open to abuse and abused it certainly is. You used to get a postal vote if you were going to be abroad in certain circumstances but you would probably have voted here. I suppose there are enough expats still allowed to vote who take advantage of this but it is certainly suspicious. All the postage inside the UK is pre-paid , we also have to pay to send the ballot packs abroad but they have to pay postage when they return it.

I have never seen any details of the cost of all this but the special printing of ballot papers , statements and envelopes followed by lots of manual work receiving and processing postal votes cannot be cheap. All this so Labour can get even more votes is not much of a bargain. They even try to hide that fact by mixing all the ballot papers.

Maybe we can start an “Abolish Postal Voting on demand” campaign , it would certainly ruffle lots of lefty feathers.

© well_chuffed 2019

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