To ask the hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, what assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the efficacy of removing the current policy of absent votes on demand in favour of the previous absent votes criteria for the purpose of preventing electoral fraud; and if he will make a statement.
6 November 2015
In January 2014, the Electoral Commission published its review of electoral fraud in the UK, which followed research and wide public consultation on a number of proposals for reducing absent voting vulnerabilities, including reversing the current availability of postal voting on demand without a reason or attestation in Great Britain.
While some respondents to the Commission’s consultation supported restricting the availability of postal voting on demand to address the risk of electoral fraud, others expressed concern that it would reduce convenience and could mean that some electors would be unable to vote. Respondents also suggested that restricting the availability of postal voting on demand would be disproportionate to the number and scale of proven cases of postal voting fraud.
The Commission’s review concluded that restricting the availability of postal voting would remove the freedom for electors to choose a convenient and, for the vast majority, secure, method of voting and on balance did not support changing the availability of postal voting in Great Britain. At the May 2015 UK Parliamentary general election postal votes were issued to around 7.6 million electors in Great Britain, representing nearly 17% of the total electorate. At present, the Commission is aware of 22 cases of alleged electoral fraud at the May 2015 polls involving postal votes. The Commission continues to monitor data about cases of alleged postal voting fraud, and will keep its assessment of the impact of restricting the availability of postal voting under review in light of any new evidence which becomes available.
The Commission’s review also considered whether there was a case for further restricting the availability of proxy voting by requiring all proxy applications to be attested; limiting proxy voting to a smaller range of categories of need, such as special category electors; or imposing further limits on the number of electors for whom an individual could be appointed to act as a proxy. Respondents to the Commission’s consultation expressed concern that such restrictions could have an impact on voter participation, especially for disabled voters or those outside the country at the time of the election for whom proxy voting might be the only way in which they are able to vote. On balance, the Commission did not support placing further restrictions on the availability of proxy voting.