Sunday, August 29, 2004

Full Report on Postal Ballots by the Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission says North East referendum should go ahead as an all-postal ballot
26 Aug 2004
Not for publication before 00.01, Friday 27 August 2004
The Electoral Commission believes the North East referendum on an elected regional assembly and local government restructuring should go ahead as planned on 4 November.

In a statement published today, the Commission reaches the conclusion that the referendum in the North East should proceed as an all-postal ballot.

The Commissions evaluation of the all-postal pilots at the June elections highlights the need to provide voters with a choice of voting methods. However, the Commission believes it would not be right to abandon the all-postal ballot in the North East as this late stage. Making significant changes to the process now would increase the risks and the Commission is of the view that the referendum should proceed as planned.

Statement:
Implications of the Commission report Delivering democracy? fro the regional assembly and local government referendums

The Commission today published a major report on the future of postal voting in the UK, drawing on the findings of its evaluations of all-postal voting pilot schemes in the 2004 elections.

The Commission has recommended that all-postal pilot schemes at elections should not continue, and that a new model of voting reform needs to be developed to enhance the degree of choice available to voters and to provide a more robust legal framework.

In July, Parliament approved an all-postal referendum for the North East of England. The referendum period has now started and the close of poll is fixed for 4 November 2004.

In advance of Parliaments decision, the Government stated that it would make changes to the processes for the conduct of the regional referendum should our evaluation of the election pilot schemes show that all-postal voting is unsafe.

The Government also indicated that the timing of proposed referendums in the North West and Yorkshire & the Humber would be considered following the publication of the Commissions evaluation reports.

The Commission has therefore considered carefully, in the light of our conclusions in relation to postal voting more generally, whether it is appropriate for the referendum in the North East to continue as planned and what the implications are for the two postponed referendums.

In relation to the North East referendum, our conclusion is that the referendum should proceed as an all-postal ballot without major changes to the process. In reaching this view, the Commission is strongly influenced by the fact that the referendum process is already underway, as Parliament approved the Orders that initiated the process in July this year. Counting Officers are currently making the necessary arrangements for the effective delivery of the referendums under that legislative framework. In our view, it would be a far greater risk to the process if significant changes were to be made now than if the referendum were to continue as planned.

Our judgment is also based on a number of additional factors that are specific to this referendum.

These are as follows:

The form of all postal-voting defined in law for the regional referendum is a significant improvement over that piloted in June, in part as a result of changes advocated by the Commission earlier in the year. For example, there is no requirement for a witness to sign the security statement and more Assistance and Delivery Points are provided for and discretion given to Counting Officers to provide additional Points as they see fit;

There is presently no evidence on which to conclude that an all-postal referendum in the North East would be unsafe in terms of fraud or malpractice. To the Commissions knowledge, no allegations of electoral fraud made in the North East in relation to the June all-postal pilot scheme have led to formal prosecutions;

Voters and election professionals in the North East have substantial previous experience of all-postal ballots;

The public is more positive about all-postal voting, and its future use, in the North East than in any other pilot region; and

The capacity of commercial printers and the Royal Mail to manage an all-postal ballot of the scale required in the North East (with approximately 1.9 million electors) was evidenced in June and their capacity will be further enhanced by the lack of competing pressures from other all-postal ballots taking place simultaneously. Additionally, planning between printers, local authorities and other key suppliers is already well underway.

The Commissions report Delivering democracy? highlights the risks involved with late decision-making in relation to the legal framework for the conduct of the all-postal ballots held earlier this year, especially once critical planning activities are underway.

The Commission is not, therefore making any recommendations for change to the Orders already made in relation to the conduct of the North East referendums.

However, we will work with the Chief Counting Officer and the Government to encourage and promote good practice within the framework of the existing Order especially in relation to voter access and choice.

Nothing in this statement should be interpreted as offering reassurance that, even if the actions above are taken, the referendum process in the North East will be risk free or secure a high degree of public support. There are factors that have not previously had to be addressed in all-postal ballots, including the fact that the referendum period will coincide with the annual registration canvass.

In relation to further referendums, the Commission would not support any future referendums whether regional or national - being run on the all-postal basis proposed for the North East, in line with our wider recommendations for the future of voting in Delivering democracy?.

However, that does not prevent any such referendum proceeding on traditional voting lines at such time as the Government considers appropriate.

The Electoral Commission
August 2004
Ends/

For further information contact the Press Office:
Charmaine Colvin on 020 7271 0700 or 020 7271 0530
Out of Office hours 07887 626774
ccolvin@electoralcommission.org.uk
www.regionalvote.co.uk
www.electoralcommission.org.uk/

Notes to editors:
Delivering democracy?, the evaluation reports for the North East, North West, Yorkshire & the Humber and East Midlands can be viewed at:
www.electoralcommission.org.uk/about-us/june2004pilots.cfm.

The Electoral Commission was established on 30 November 2000 by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). It is independent of Government and aims to ensure openness and transparency in the financial affairs of Britain's political parties, and to increase public confidence and participation in the democratic process.
Under the terms of the PPERA, the Commission is responsible for all UK, national (Scotland, England, Wales, NI) and regional referendums. On 23 July 2004, the Government signed the final Orders triggering the process for a referendum on a regional assembly to be held in the North East region on 4 November 2004.

The Electoral Commission has a significant role to play in the forthcoming referendum.

These responsibilities include:

appointing a chief counting officer Ged Fitzgerald, Sunderland;

commenting on the intelligibility of the referendum question;

registering campaign organisations (permitted participants);

designating (appointing) lead campaign organisations on both sides of the referendum question (where possible);

and
monitoring referendum expenditure limits and donations.

The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 outlines the Government's intention to enable the creation of elected regional assemblies in English regions.

The Government has previously stated that where there appears to be sufficient interest in establishing an elected regional assembly in a region, there will be a referendum to determine public views.

People can ring 0800 3 280 280 for further information about the North East regional referendum.
View other news items


Media centre
Campaigns
Conferences and events
Leaflets and forms
News releases: campaigns
News releases: corporate
News releases: donations
News releases: reviews and research
Subscription
Contacts

1 comment:

lightly-salted said...

Fascinating blog. I loved the site you did a good
job on it, I will be back! I surf the net for blog
like this one.
Search for my blog, please!

Blog Archive


only search Neil Herron Blog