How many postal votes arrive too late?

Something rarely talked about with postal voting is the number of people who miss out on having their vote cast because the Royal Mail loses or delays the delivery of the ballot paper back to the Returning Officer. It isn’t a number that can be measured directly, but one figure is gathered but then ignored – the number of ballot papers that are returned by Royal Mail too late to be included in the count.

The figures don’t tell us where the balance of responsibility rests between the Royal Mail (failing to return the envelopes promptly) and the would-be voters (leaving it too late to post their ballots), nor do they tell us how many are lost, but they do at least give us an idea of the possible scale of the issue.

After a prompt from myself, the Electoral Commission has now published these figures for the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Here they are (taken from the detailed spreadsheet):

Number of postal ballot papers issued – 5,845,801
Number of covering envelopes received before close of poll – 2,816,506
Number of postal ballots included in the count – 2,684,847
Number of covering envelopes received after close of poll – 28,034

(The difference between the second and third figure is that not all returned envelopes contain valid postal ballots, e.g. because the security information in them is wrong.)

There is also data for how many postal ballot envelopes were returned after the close of poll in the three Parliamentary by-elections of the time:

Cardiff South and Penarth: 101
Corby: 128
Manchester Central: 205



11 responses to “How many postal votes arrive too late?”

  1. This is why I drop my postal ballot in the box at the Civic Centre. I don’t trust the mail to deliver it.

  2. It’s only 1% – however that 1% could be the difference between winning and losing – especially in a tight marginal. The problem is that far too many people have a naïve trust that the Royal Mail will deliver on time. And Tracy, don’t underestimate the ability of the Local Town Hall to lose papers between the Reception and Electoral Services.

  3. Don’t the post office do sweeps on polling day to make sure that any envelopes in the system get to the returning officer?
    They certainly did that in the all postal elections in 2004 and I was under the impression that the distinctive design of envelopes was intended to facilitate that.
    Two things occur to me:
    1) Wider publiciity of how to return your ballot late – not many people know you can return it to any polling station in your council/consituency on polling day (so better than posting on the eve of poll)
    2) There is no system for notifying people that they have completed their ballot incorrectly as regards the declaration and giving them the chance to put that right. I know one RO who is very frustrated when they get papers completed wrongly (eg with todays date put in instead of birthdate) that they can’t send it back and tell the person concerned.

  4. Postal voting does have its advantages and disadvantages.
    I’d like to see Early voting be rolled out. Maybe not at all polling stations but maybe have one major location open for Early voting in each city a week or so ahead of the election to give people the chance to vote in person at least.

  5. definitely worth thinking about as a a trial. wouldn’t want it to be too widespread, as it loses the point of a campaign, but anyone on the campaign trail comes across people who really want to vote but too late for a postal vote and could use this facility. probably at place the election team from the council works at.

  6. most interesting. is it possible for the figures to be broken down further, or obtained for other elections ? also I am puzzled by the numberof envelopes not delivered at all. As they are all pre addressed by the council, how can they not be clear ? all in all, there is a big education campaign needed for use of postal vote, how to fill in etc.

  7. Of course that still means the turnout of Postal Voters is two to three times the turnout of everyone else. (In our by-election in December it was more than four times, in fact)

  8. Sam Rees Early voting got heavily piloted under the last Labour government, with very little impact on turnout. Those tests were a few years ago now, but I can’t think of anything that’s changed which would make it likely that what flopped then would be a success now.

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