Democracy Volunteers continues to urge caution over increase in Postal Votes

As the UK’s leading election observation group, last year Democracy Volunteers recommended ‘caution over largescale extension of postal voting’ and ‘encouraging in-person voting where possible, with a clear voter ‘Code of Conduct’ in place at polling stations.

Many of the recommendations made by Democracy Volunteers will be seen in polling stations this May with Covid ambassadors in place as voters enter polling stations.
Despite expectations that there would be a vast increase in postal voting there has been a notable, if not extensive, increase in take up of postal votes according to the Electoral Management Board for Scotland and the UK’s Electoral Commission.

However, data produced by the Electoral Commission does suggest that voters should be cautious when casting their vote by post. Based on the data collected from Returning Officers following the 2019 Westminster General Election, an average of over 2% of postal votes never get counted as they are completed incorrectly. This is usually because the signature does not match that on the council’s database or that the voter does not include their correct date of birth, or a combination of these. So-called personal ‘identifiers.’

This data suggests that up to 11.46% of postal votes were rejected in any one constituency in 2019 – the Airdrie and Shotts constituency in Scotland. With an increase in postal votes this number will increase in this May’s elections meaning more voters will not have their votes counted.

In other countries, voters are informed before the close of poll and offered a replacement if their identification can not be confirmed from their returned postal vote. In the UK returning officers a required only to write to those whose was not counted within three months informing them their vote was not completed correctly and was not counted. With over 1 million postal votes being requested in Scotland this May this could mean over 20,000 voters will be disenfranchised.

Commenting, Dr John Ault, Director of Democracy Volunteers said;

‘Postal voting is an easy way for voters to access the electoral process, especially during the pandemic. But we would encourage voters to complete their carefully when casting them by post.’
‘We would also urge the three Governments, in Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay to assess how voters can be contacted ahead of the election if they have completed their votes incorrectly, so that they might be rectified and counted. Because this is legally proscribed Returning Officers have no leeway on how to deal with these rejected ballots.’

‘Receiving a letter, three months after an election has concluded, informing a voter their vote did not count is an unsatisfactory situation in a western democracy. This and other recommendations will be included in our election observation reports following this May’s elections.’

Map of postal vote rejection rates in Great Britain

Why are postal votes rejected?