The UKIP leader, Nigel Frarage has written to the chair of the Electoral Commission to raise his concerns over how the Labour Party resorts to “ugly and disreputable machine politics” with regard to postal votes.
He is accusing Labour of calling elections with as short amount of campaigning time as is required by law but then getting postal vote forms out and returned as quickly as possible – sometimes before even the mid-point of the campaign has been reached. This cannot be good for democracy he says.
UKIP points to the recent by-elections in South Shields and Rotherham where over half of the votes submitted were made via post and where Labour retained seats despite a strong UKIP challenge.
Mr Farage said:
“Labour has realised it cannot win the arguments with UKIP on big issues such as immigration and job opportunities for young people.
“So it is using its machine, sponsored by the trades unions, to stitch up votes before the electorate has had a chance to weigh up the issues and hear all the candidates in by-elections make their pitch.
“This is deeply cynical, ugly and disreputable machine politics. I think it is shocking that a postal voting facility that was intended to allow the infirm to register a vote is now being misused on such a vast scale.
“Labour and its union paymasters are notorious for deploying machine politics when it comes to candidate selection. That is bad enough. But for them to be extending the technique into the conduct of actual parliamentary elections is quite disgraceful. It must be stopped.”
To Jenny Watson, Chair
The Electoral Commission
Dear Ms Watson,
I am writing to express my profound and growing concerns about the way the postal voting system is functioning in practice, especially at parliamentary by-elections.
I do not think democracy is being well served and fear that the voting process is now actually undermining the ability of constituents to hear and weigh-up the alternatives being offered in a considered fashion.
The problem is most acute when it comes to parliamentary by-elections. Our recent experience is that where the Labour Party is responsible for moving the writ, it has taken to condensing a campaign into the shortest legally-permitted time frame.
This means postal votes arrive in households within a few days of candidates being selected – often well before the mid-point in a campaign. In our experience people, for their own convenience, fill out and send off their postal votes swiftly.
As I understand it, the last Labour government brought in postal voting on demand back in 2001, but the stated purpose was very much to improve the enfranchisement of people who found it difficult to attend polling stations in person, largely because of infirmity or working overseas. Instead we now have a situation where postal voting is rapidly proliferating.
So in practice in by-elections up to half the total turnout may have already voted by the halfway point in a campaign.
That cannot be healthy for democracy. Clearly it is also a development that biases the outcome in favour of the incumbent rather than parties, such as my own, that seek to place fresh alternatives before the electorate.
As you will know, concerns have been expressed elsewhere about postal votes being neither as secure nor as tamper-proof as votes in person. When someone votes in person in the privacy of a polling booth supervised by independent staff there is also a much higher level of assurance that the choice they express is genuinely their own and not one foisted upon them by another family member or associate.
Very recently concerns have also been expressed to me about the work of an organisation called the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation which has allegedly been transferring the addresses of postal vote applicants that trade unions have processed directly onto the Labour Party computer system.
I am also hugely concerned about the growing practice whereby canvassers representing the Labour Party arrive on doorsteps a very short time after the delivery of postal votes, offering to collect them. Such actions in my view can only be construed as mildly intimidatory, especially where the voters concerned are from vulnerable groups.
For all these reasons I believe the trade-off between the convenience of postal voting and the security of voting in person needs to be re-set much more strongly in favour of the latter.
I would be grateful for your observations on these matters and would welcome an opportunity to discuss my concerns with you in person.