Peterborough by Election, More Statistics

well_chuffed, Going Postal
The Peterborough by-election statistics © Sunshine & Showers June 2019

New data

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
Bretton 1 Postal Bretton 959 750



Electorate

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.

Electorate Turnout Percent
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
Bretton 6,517 6,630 5,493 Con
Central 6,409 7,598 5,820 Lab
Dogsthorpe 7,125 6,492 5,332 Lab
East 6,862 6,979 5,049 Lab
Eye, Thorney & Newborough 6,760 7,075 6,990 Con
Fletton & Woodston 7,050 7,305 4,761 Con
Gunthorpe 6,216 6,424 6,033 LibDum
North 6,852 7,023 5,300 Lab
Park 6,674 6,883 5,415 Lab
Paston & Walton 7,303 7,361 6,226 Lab
Ravensthorpe 7,407 7,448 6,214 Lab
Werrington 7,827 7,908 7,566 Ind
Total 83,002 85,126 70,199

Here is the turnout percentage.

Turnout Percent 2016 2018 2019
Bretton 33.01 30.69 44.86
Central 35.62 44.71 49.57
Dogsthorpe 45.82 29.50 42.31
East 34.86 33.56 43.30
Eye, Thorney & Newborough 39.02 32.61 47.78
Fletton & Woodston 28.18 27.49 57.66
Gunthorpe 37.89 35.06 44.32
North 51.05 39.43 51.28
Park 54.08 46.26 56.77
Paston & Walton 31.00 31.03 40.65
Ravensthorpe 39.75 37.67 47.01
Werrington 37.81 33.73 49.55
Total 39.01 35.14 47.92

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
Bretton 2,151 2,035 2,464
Central 2,283 3,397 2,885
Dogsthorpe 3,265 1,915 2,256
East 2,392 2,342 2,186
Eye, Thorney & Newborough 2,638 2,307 3,340
Fletton & Woodston 1,987 2,008 2,745
Gunthorpe 2,355 2,252 2,674
North 3,498 2,769 2,718
Park 3,609 3,184 3,074
Paston & Walton 2,264 2,284 2,531
Ravensthorpe 2,944 2,806 2,921
Werrington 2,959 2,667 3,749
Postal votes handed in 455
Total 32,345 29,966 33,998

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.


Postal Voting

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
Bretton 1,044 15.75 959 17.46
Central 1,610 21.19 1,445 24.83
Dogsthorpe 1,179 18.16 950 17.82
East 1,441 20.65 1,049 20.78
Eye, Thorney & Newborough 1,087 15.36 1,137 16.27
Fletton & Woodston 1,007 13.79 965 20.27
Gunthorpe 1,186 18.46 1,201 19.91
North 1,611 22.94 1,261 23.79
Park 1,458 21.18 1,194 22.05
Paston & Walton 1,143 15.53 1,001 16.08
Ravensthorpe 1,420 19.07 1,264 20.34
Werrington 1,249 15.79 1,256 16.60
Total 15,435 13,682

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.

Proxy Votes

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.


Conclusion

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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