Media & PR

Postal ballots are not the same as postal vote application forms

The Guardian today seems to confuse application forms for postal votes with the actual ballot papers that postal voters receive:

At the weekend David Monks, head of elections for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, called for a ban on political parties handling postal votes amid fears that activists are collecting ballot papers before forwarding them on in order to record the results in their canvassing process. This breaches a national code of conduct, but is not illegal.

Activists taking postal ballot papers and then recording the voting intention from them would leave them open to legal action (e.g. undue influence – if they are getting people to hand over ballot papers without them being sealed in envelopes – or a range of offences if they are taking envelopes and opening them).

However, an application form for a postal vote is another matter. People from all parties hand out these forms and then collect them in or ask them to be mailed back to their local address before then passing them on to the council. This is legal – and also is not a breach of the national code of conduct. In fact, the code lays down a deadline for how quickly such forms should be passed on.

Why do some places do this? There’s a range of reasons including some councils don’t have a freepost return address and some councils are extremely slow in publishing list of postal voters (so you can’t check if someone has successfully returned a form or whether something may have got lost in the post). It’s a shame that the returning officer profession is often so reluctant to face up to how it is the poor performance of some of its members that helps explains why people without any corrupt intent whatsoever take this approach.

As a basic principle the difference between an application form and a postal ballot paper is pretty clear – though curiously The Guardian is by no means the first to mix the two together.

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