How important is postal voting becoming?

Late last year, I read Banana Republic UK, which I reviewed here…. We should all be familiar with the dire turnout in the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections, and a comment by Joanna Baxter made me consider what proportion of the PCC elections were cast by postal ballot. Since the postal vote is the most vulnerable part of our voting system, as it becomes more pervasive, the vulnerabilities become more important; the election becomes less safe.

Not easy to find out, the Elections Commission does not keep results.  They referred me to the Returning Officers. So I decided to start with Hampshire since that’s where I voted. The Hampshire PCC election results are posted here…, and the results are by local district, without a PV breakdown, although each district should have those facts. I spoke to Southampton Council’s elections team and this is what I discovered for Southampton City. The table below shows the postal ballots despatched, those returned and those rejected.

Item Value
Postal Ballots, requested 25,728
Postal Ballots, not returned 12,723
Postal Ballots, received 13,005
Postal Ballots, rejected 1,006
Postal Ballots, counted 11,999
Total Votes cast 22,819
Votes Rejected 574
Valid Votes Cast 22,245
% of Votes
Cast by Post
54%

It also shows the total votes cast, which I have taken from the results site and thus the proportion of votes cast by postal ballot, which at 54% is more than ½. Since the postal vote is the most vulnerable part of the electoral system, this might be cause for concern. It should also be noted that 51% of the Postal Vote ballot papers ‘disappeared’, over 13,000 ballot papers.

The results in Southampton were as follows,

Candidate Votes % Diff
Rayment (Lab) 8,596 39% 4,739
Mates (Con) 3,857 17% 487
Hayes (Ind) 3,370 15% 912
Jerrard (J&ACP) 2,458 11% 276
Goodall (LD) 2,182 10% 400
West UKIP 1,782 8% 1,782
Total Votes Counted 22,245

The winner in Southampton, won by over 4,700 votes more than the second placed candidates, but only 487 votes separated second and third place and only 2,075 votes separated all the rest. Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of missing ballot papers and a lot of postal votes, although I think that the papers in a ballot box will be reconciled with the Presiding Officers statements as to how many ballot papers were issued. Any attempt to harvest postal ballots and stuff the ballot box at polling stations would be hard, and discovered; the act of placing the the ballot in the box is observed by election staff.

I chose Southampton because it was the authority for which the PCC Returning Officer was also the district returning officer; I hadn’t realised that the data was only available in each and from each electoral area. I am unclear as to what conclusions one can draw from this one district. There were 211,886 votes counted in the Constabulary, which makes Southampton 10% of the district.

The people at Southampton were very helpful and pointed me at The University of Plymouth’s Election Centre. They may have the figures that would allow a more thorough analysis, without having to ring all the districts individually.

ooOOOoo

This has taken me nearly a year to decide to publish. One reason for withholding, is that the statistics i.e. my data sources are poor in that they are insufficiently broad and I did not conduct the supplementary research required to make it as rigorous as I’d like. I should have seen how accessible the UoP studies are, but bottom line, turnout was dreadful, postal votes were more important than ever because of the low turnout, a lot of postal ballot papers were not returned. The reason for publishing it will become clear.

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