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Thoughts on postal ballots

I registered for a postal ballot for the forthcoming local and EU elections, since I am in one of the pilot areas for it. Unlike some people, I received my ballot papers in good time, and sent them off last Tuesday evening, after diffrentcolours had verified my identity.

Since I voted, though, I have been inundated with election leaflets through my letter-box and bombarded with 'election special' interviews and Party Political broadcasts on TV and on the radio... all of which are totally irrelevant to me, 'cos I can't change my mind now even if I wanted to.

It's all made me realise that if postal ballots catch on and are implemented across the country for all elections in future, political parties are going to have to rethink the way they campaign quite radically, in order to make sure they've got all their messages across in time to catch the postal voters as well as the people who vote in polling stations. Last-minute smear campaigns, for instance, are going to lose a lot of their effectiveness if half the country have voted by the time they come out.

I think on the whole a change like this will probably be positive, because I don't much like the current tendency to ignore the electorate most of the time, and only pull out desperate fawning measures at the last minute. Having to allow for a 10-day (or so) period during which people are voting, rather than direct everything towards one day, might just encourage some slightly more thoughtful campaigning. (Well, I am an optimist by nature...)

On the other hand, though, I think I might prefer to vote in person in the next general election, because voting by post does make it all seem a bit less of a ceremony. I like the feeling of being one of millions of people across the country going to play my part in the democratic process on polling day: it's part of the build-up towards the ritual of then staying up all night to see what happens (something I've done for the last 3 general elections, despite the fact that I was too young to have voted in the first of those!).

That's just sentiment, though, and given that not very many people get quite that excited by elections (especially local ones), anything which encourages people to vote at all has got to be a good idea. Overall, I reckon postal voting is definitely a good thing: but it is going mean some differences if it becomes standard practice.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2004 06:52 am (UTC)
I've voted by post as well, not because I'm in a pilot scheme, but because I won't be back home on the 10th. You're right, it IS much less ceremony, but it's a lot easier too!

But now every time I see a party political broadcast or whatever, I think, 'haha! Too late!' To change totally to postal voting would involve a very different strategy. And also a Royal Mail that actually works.

What was annoying though, is I only ever seemed to see the UK Independence Party! And I decided not to vote for them, on the basis that Robert Kilroy-Silk was totally annoying me with his assumptions! And the Labour one basically slagged off the Conservatives last term (yup, they're still going on about that) and there was barely anything about their own policies! I want to hear about THEIR policies, not incessant bitching!

I think I'm one of the few who are actually interested in politics :-)
Jun. 8th, 2004 07:36 am (UTC)
It struck me this morning that all-postal ballots would mean that something like what happened in the Spanish election after the Madrid bombings couldn't happen though...

And on postal ballots in general, fine, but the enforced cock-up in the north west has been an absolute farce and has been so dodgy in terms of ways it could be fiddled it's untrue. I won't rant too much, but:

a) some ballot papers *still* haven't turned up and they're being delivered by hand by council workers (who are of course completely unbiased).
b) the papers themselves are appalling badly designed, easy to spoil by tearing in the wrong place, and v. difficult to understand what to do.
c) they are entirely written in English in a place where all council etc. material has been written in at least five languages for many years. In an area where the Muslim vote is likely to go against Labour (hmmmm...)
d) the basic principle destroys the secrecy of the ballot, especially within families (again there are multicultural issues here) and with the perception that the witnessing does too.

In short, it's the fact that it's not possible to vote any other way that's the problem, even if it was being run by people who *could* find their arse with both hands and a map.. There's more but I'll stop now, (sorry), it's just I wouldn't be surprised if the turnout here is even lower than usual, assuming the count is considered valid of course..
Jun. 8th, 2004 09:11 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, I totally agree that the delay in getting papers to people is a serious flaw this time round.

Also, I hadn't thought about the Spanish example. I was thinking in terms of voters responding to the messages being deliberately conveyed to them by politicians in a controlled fashion, but of course there are always random events which happen that may alter people's political perspective, and you're right that postal voters are effectively disenfranchised (by comparison to polling station voters) when it comes to responding to anything like this which happens between them posting off their vote and the actual election day.

The language issue is pretty shocking too, actually. And at first I was going to say I couldn't see how it destroyed the secrecy principal. But I realised I was being way too idealistic, and failing to imagine the possibility of families where one dominant family member just takes all the ballot papers, crosses the boxes he / she wants crossed on all of them, and then makes the other family members sign the identification forms (or doesn't even bother, given how much those are worth as a serious ID check...).

So I'm rethinking my perspective a little here in the light of what you've said. I think I'm still overall in favour of postal ballots because anything which can be done to encourage voting has to be good. But I can see there are lots of problems to iron out before it's a really good working system, and I can't see at the moment how the problem of guaranteeing secrecy (and hence the right to free and independent voting) can be managed.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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