Conservative MP Andrew Stephenson has called for the termination of postal voting on demand and asked that only those who can demonstrate “genuine need” should be given the right to vote via the indirect method. The pressing need for this is based on fraud, apparently. Stephenson has even gone so far as to try and link voter disengagement with perceptions of vote rigging. “On demand postal voting is leading to widespread perception of fraud,” the MP said on Daily Politics. “It’s actually stopping some people casting their ballots because they no longer have confidence in the system.”
Since 2001, anyone in the country can apply to have a postal vote for any reason. In most quarters, this has been regarded as a positive step. The Electoral Commission have only recently given fresh support for this method of voting, citing in a select committee that nearly six in ten of those who voted by post in the English and Welsh local elections in 2008 said that having the ability to vote by post was a significant factor in getting them to cast a ballot. It is not hard to surmise that eliminating postal voting on demand would almost certainly take the problems we have with turnout for elections in this country and make them a great deal worse. Postal votes made up a whopping 48.9% of the votes cast during the PCC elections in 2012, during an election which saw an overall turnout of 15%. Imagine if it had been closer to 8% – a national poll going into single figure turnout. Postal ballots usually account for around a quarter of votes cast during any given election in this country; to lose them, and on the assumption that most of those denied a postal vote would not turn up at the polling station, would drag turnout at the next general election most likely down past the 50% mark.
At a time when we are worried about people voting in ever fewer numbers, removing a proven method of driving turnout up seems mad. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not more difficult. I am not taking the idea of voter fraud lightly – even if it is only practised on a limited scale, it is a horrid thing for democracy to see results possibly effected by it. But the onus is on the Electoral Commission and other authorities to ensure that the system is policed properly, not just in regards to postal voting but also in all of the other new ways of voting I’m sure we’ll see over the next twenty to thirty years (I look forward to some way of using the internet to vote within my lifetime).
So let’s fix the checks and balances to ensure that the results of elections are fair; not look backwards by taking away hard fought rights from voters.