Postal perils

28 March 2005

A few days ago I linklogged (a now dead) Indie article on the perils of the postal vote. Now there’s a Guardian article on the same topic. Several criminal investigations have taken place already; with applications to vote by post tripling in some constituencies, there are fears the upcoming election will be subject to widespread rigging.

This is the fault of Labour’s reforms to the electoral system, the Representation of the People Act 2000, extending the right to vote from those simply unable because of mobility or residence, to anyone who wanted to; Labour’s mantra of choice and the citizen as consumer extended to the most precious foundation of democracy, the vote. The vote is now reduced to something to scribble on and give to the postman; as meaningless as another bill or mail order form.

Why should the vote be so easy to get hold of in the first place? In my view, if you can’t find the time to go down the polling station (which is open all day till 10pm, let’s not forget) on polling day when you’re perfectly capable of doing so, you don’t really deserve to cast a vote in the first place. Given the number of people who have fought and died for the vote the world over, sacrificing twenty minutes of your time, on one day every four years, to cast your vote is a small price to pay for continuing to live in a democracy.

Incidentally, there is a hint of racial politics in this; the suggestion is that the heads of Asian families may, through postal voting, control the votes for all the family members. Treading lightly so as not to offend would be a mistake; our duty is to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote can do so without being coerced by others. Rather than being sensitive to the views of ethnic minorities, ignoring the problem serves only to disenfranchise them.

Postal voting will never be secure; its very nature means derogating the monitoring of the vote away from the polling station to the home; in computing terms, authentication – i.e. that a vote is actually from who it says its from – is given entirely to the owner of the sending domain rather than the receiving one. The lesson from the computing world is that this leads to abuses of the system like spam and phishing. The political world has refused to take lessons from the mistakes of others, alas. Only by removing the postal vote for all but the infirm or absent is going to remove the potential for malice – proponents of the postal vote will moan about low turnout, but I’d take a lower turnout over a fraudulent election any day.

One Response


I’m all for doing something about the security of postal voting, but if we’re going to clamp down on who can do so, I’d mightily prefer it if we make another reform, too. I booked my holiday for the first week of May about 6 months ago, long before the unofficial date was declared (I see that we still don’t have an official date). Since I’d rather like to exercise my democratic right to vote, a fixed term would be nice so I can avoid this in future.

But then, I’ve been thinking for a long time we should have a fixed term anyway. The problem is that the current situation where Tony gets to call the election whenever it would most suit him gives Labour the advantage, and no majority party in their right mind would change the electoral law to make things more difficult for themselves (the same reason why PR is never going to get through).

Meanwhile, we have to put up with months of intense campaigning, that is all being stuck out because they can do as much as they want before the election is called, and it doesn’t come out of the limited “election campaign” funds, but general party money.