Peterborough Council published what seems to be an unprecedented amount of data about the recent by election. They gave statistics by polling station, in local elections we get data for wards but never normally by polling station. Let’s hope it sets a trend. The election concerned 12 wards in which there were 49 polling stations. In a local election the votes are tallied by ward, for a Westminster election they are tallied by constituency so we won’t see how each ward voted, just how many chose to vote and the Postal Votes are evenly apportioned between the wards making it impossible to see how they voted.
Here is an example from one ward, Bretton. You will notice the magic 750 number that got so many people worked up. They allocated 750 postal votes to 11 of the wards and 793 to the 12th. This is roughly what the law demands, ask Tony Blair and his mates why they do this.
|District (s)||Total Ballot Boxes||Polling Place||Ward||Eligible||No of ballots issued (from control)|
|BRN1||1||Pyramid Community Centre||Bretton||1,640||537|
|BRN2||1||Church of the Holy Spirit||Bretton||954||361|
|BRN3||1||Peterborough Masonic Hall||Bretton||673||251|
|BRN4||1||Tyesdale Community Centre||Bretton||1,267||565|
When comparing the local elections with the by election one number hits you in the face and that is the electorate count. For the 2018 local elections the electorate was 85,175 whereas for the by election it was 70,199. That’s a difference of nearly 15,000. Either thousands of people moved away last year or some people entitled to vote in the local election are not allowed a vote in a Westminster election.
I have also included the 2019 Euro election. This is a bit apples and oranges because in this election the electorate for Peterborough in the Euros was 121,411 and so includes wards outside the Peterborough parliamentary constituency. They were never going to make this easy.
|2016 local election||83,002||32,345||38.97|
|2018 local election||85,126||29,966||35.20|
|2019 Euro election||121,411||42,494||35.00|
|2019 by election||70,199||33,543||47.78|
The usual historical quirk(s) exist in our franchise system. EU citizens are only allowed to vote in local and Euro elections, not for Westminster ones. However citizens of the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta are allowed to vote in Westminster elections; it’s all to do with the Commmonwealth and the creation of the Republic of Ireland. Those unlucky people who can’t vote are nearly all EU citizens as well as the odd peer. It looks like there are around 15k EU citizens in the Peterborough constituency.
The by election details by polling station only tell us how many are eligible to vote, how many postal votes and how many actually voted. The Council are not allowed to tell us the results by polling station or even ward, the votes are only tallied for the entire constituency. Nevertheless it is nice to see how many potential postal votes and proxies there are for each polling station.
Postal Votes handed in at a polling station
On polling day anyone is allowed to hand in postal votes at any polling station within the constituency. This is allowed in the rules, you might ask why get a postal vote and not post it but it is within the law.
We can see a figure for “Late Postal Votes”. These are where someone has handed in a postal vote at a polling station on polling day. This is allowed and it can be anybody handing it in, there is no check at the polling station. The presiding officer fills in the number of postal votes handed in on the return. In the by election there were 455 such votes but unfortunately we have not been given the breakdown by polling station. There have been allegations of sackloads of such votes turning up late. More detail could have set the rumour to rest.
When I worked in the polling station for the Euros we had around a dozen postal votes handed in. 455 divided by the 49 polling stations is less than 10 postal votes handed in at each station on average. That doesn’t strike me as being suspicious.
Turnout by ward
Here we can compare the 2016, 2018 and 2019 elections. The first two are locals and the 2019 is the by election. The number of people who voted is remarkably similar for each election. 32,345, 29,966 and 33,543 respectively. Remember there are 15,000 more voters in a local election there.
The turnout expressed as number of valid votes cast shows mostly similar figures per ward, however the percentage turnout in the by election is higher because the electorate does not include EU citizens.
I have included a column called 2018 Party Winner. This is from the 2018 Local Election where we get the winning Party for each ward. It’s a best guess as to how a ward might vote. The next table details the electorate or voters entitled to vote.
|Electorate||2016||2018||2019||2018 Party Winner|
|Eye, Thorney & Newborough||6,760||7,075||6,990||Con|
|Fletton & Woodston||7,050||7,305||4,761||Con|
|Paston & Walton||7,303||7,361||6,226||Lab|
Here is the turnout percentage.
|Eye, Thorney & Newborough||39.02||32.61||47.78|
|Fletton & Woodston||28.18||27.49||57.66|
|Paston & Walton||31.00||31.03||40.65|
Although the turnout percentage for the 2019 by election looks higher, the next table contains the number of valid votes cast and there are not such big differences. This is because the 2019 electorate was much smaller and the percentages can be very misleading. Politicians would always choose the number showing themselves in the most favourable way, liars and cheats that they are for the most part.
In some ways it would seem there are almost a hardcore of people who vote. Remember the 2019 figures include the apportioned postal vote of 750 per ward with 793 going to one of them. This makes it even more difficult to rely on these numbers as accurate but it is as good as we will get. At least the totals are correct. In local elections, postal votes are correctly counted by ward.
|Valid Votes Cast||2016||2018||2019|
|Eye, Thorney & Newborough||2,638||2,307||3,340|
|Fletton & Woodston||1,987||2,008||2,745|
|Paston & Walton||2,264||2,284||2,531|
|Postal votes handed in||455|
The percentage table has quite marked differences between the two local elections and the by election but looking at the number of valid votes cast there are generally not such large differences. Percentages can be so misleading.
The average percentage of Postal Votes issued per ward is 18.16% but using the winners of the 2018 local election we can measure it by Party. For wards won by Labour the average percentage is 19.82% whereas the other wards have an average of 15.83%.
In the by election 26% of the votes cast were via a Postal Vote, 9,043 altogether.
In the 2018 local election the number of Issued Postal Votes that were Cast per ward was about 66% regardless of which party won the ward.
This table shows the number of postal votes issued and the percentage of voters choosing to go postal for each ward.
|Ward||2018 Issued||% Postal||2019 Issued||% Postal|
|Eye, Thorney & Newborough||1,087||15.36||1,137||16.27|
|Fletton & Woodston||1,007||13.79||965||20.27|
|Paston & Walton||1,143||15.53||1,001||16.08|
Unfortunately we can’t see how many postal votes were returned by ward in the 2019 by election. In the 2018 Local election about 65% of postal votes were returned and in the by election it was 66%. One wonders why 35% of the people requesting a postal vote don’t use it.
In the 2018 local election 18.16% of voters requested a postal vote. In wards won by the Labour Party, this percentage was 19.82% and in wards won by other parties it was 15.83%. In real numbers that is 9,862 against 5,573.
While the rules remain the way they are it will continue to be very difficult to prove skulduggery and even more difficult to stamp it. Perhaps those who framed the law intended for it to be this way.
There were also some allegations about proxy voting. There are many more controls on proxy voting than on postal voting but in the by election there were only 78 proxy votes altogether.
With the checks in place during the verification procedure, vote rigging would be very difficult to achieve. You have to get at the ballot boxes and the control paperwork completed by the presiding officer at each polling station. While not impossible it would require the participation of too many people.
The loose way postal voting is handled lays it wide open to abuse. From sending in the request for a postal vote to filling out the ballot paper and statement before posting or hand delivering it is fraught with pitfalls. Many of these are well known to members of certain communities. The local authority has complete control of issuing and collecting the postal votes. It is the part in between issuing and collecting where the danger lies.
To me the boast that someone had burned 1,000 Brexit votes sounds like the wacky baccy talking. The allegation of sackloads of postal votes being handed in is feasible and the presiding officer would have to accept them. There is no check on who hands them in, it could be anybody. Their validity would be checked before the verification started.
As far as allegations of voters photographing their ballot papers in the booth are concerned, there is always a sign in the polling station stating that photography is not allowed. Presumably so nobody can take a picture of now someone else votes thus preserving the secret ballot. Polling station staff should be discouraging voters from doing this though a potential smack in the gob may not encourage them to do so. It’s possible the Council may get a tap on the knuckles over this but you need the photos to prove it and no doubt they have been removed from faceache now.
Most of the other allegations are the province of Plod and it seems the fingernail painters are hot on the heels of anyone daring to tamper with our electoral process. One is expecting very little in the way of progress and any anomalies will be put down to cultural differences.
© well_chuffed 2019
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