Today the Electoral Commission published their report 'Delivering Democracy' along with a series of regional reports covering the regions that pilot all-postal ballots during the European elections in June.
The report is as refreshingly frank as one could ask from such a body. It starts by quoting some 2003 MORI polling that found that:
“There is a substantial segment of the population who make a decision not to vote for reasons of political disconnection… for this group, the mechanics of the voting process is not a critical factor, and even though they may recognise that the new arrangements offer advantages in terms of simplicity and convenience, this alone will not encourage them to vote.”
To cite such a comment shows how the Commission's attitude is changing. Not that long ago we had polls being cited showing how many additional people would vote if we introduced new channels, such as e-voting.
The report focusses on ensuring that voters feel confident in the security and accuracy of elections. As a result all-postal voting is not recommended but postal voting on demand is supported. The Commission makes some other excellent recommendations including that post-election audits of items such as declarations of identity should be mandatory under law. It's stunning that such audits aren't already required.
In gentle words the Commission also repeatedly chastises the government for the ridiculously short timescales that keep being forced on returning officers to implement these pilots. The report also surprisingly (in a good way) recommends further development of election markup language (EML) for postal ballot production. This is a usage we definitely envisaged when drafting the standard.
Overall an excellent report.
Additionally the Commission has released a short statement on the implications of their report for the regional assembly referenda. It's again quite tough on the way the government has been rushing things. To be fair on the returning officers who are already planning the all-postal North East referenda the Commission has recommended that they continue. But the commissioners wash their hands of any ensuing mess:
“Nothing in this statement should be interpreted as offering reassurance that, even if the actions above are taken, the referendum procewill be risk free or secure a high degree of public support.”
Other regional assembly referenda should not be conducted with all-postal ballots, the statement concludes.
The BBC Online has an article on the report which quotes Lib Dems gloating over how the government has been chastised. To be honest I think all local activists, no matter which party they come from, are happy to see the Commission support their doubts over all-postal voting. The article also has several parties up in arms about the recommendation to keep the North East all-postal but I just don't see any other option. The North East is a low risk, low population region and there's no time to change.
There's also quite a detailed article on Guardian Politics online.