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Political parties sign up to code of conduct on handling postal ballots

Published: 3 Jun 2008

This is an archived news release and links may no longer work.

The Electoral Commission has secured agreement from the three main political parties to a code aimed at strengthening the integrity of the postal voting system ahead of English local elections on 4 May. The parties have signed up for the second year to the Commissions code of conduct for political parties, candidates and canvassers which provides guidance on the handling of postal vote applications and postal ballot papers.

Whilst increasing numbers of electors are registering as postal voters there has been growing public concern about the security of this method of voting. 12.1% of the UK electorate voted by post at the 2005 general election three time higher than in 2001 but 46% of people considered it to be unsafe, as did a fifth of those who actually voted by post.

Nearly 25 million people will be eligible to vote at elections in 177 English local authorities on 4 May. The Commissions code aims to balance the important role parties and candidates play in encouraging people to vote with the need to protect secrecy and minimise the risk or perception of fraud.

Candidates and canvassers are advised:

  • not to handle or help voters complete their postal ballot papers;
  • to encourage voters to post or deliver ballot papers themselves;
  • if asked to take a completed ballot paper to make sure that the voter has sealed it first, and to post or return it to the Returning Officer immediately;
  • to ensure that voters complete ballot papers in secret and seal them personally; and
  • not to solicit completed postal ballot papers from electors.

The code is part of a package of initiatives undertaken by the Commission to improve the integrity of the voting process. Practical guidance to local police forces on preventing and detecting voting fraud was launched by the Commission and the Association of Chief Police Officers at a seminar in Birmingham on 27 February. New security measures such as requiring Returning Officers to write to confirm all applications for postal votes will also be in place for the May local elections.

Peter Wardle, Chief Executive of The Electoral Commission, said: Postal voting is important because it offers choice and a convenient way of voting so that more people participate in elections. Our code aims to ensure that the standards of behaviour expected at polling stations also apply in the community so that postal voters can have confidence in the system.

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For further information please contact:

Anna McGlynn or Gemma Thomas on 020 7271 0529 / 0530

email: press@electoralcommission.org.uk 

outside office hours 07789 920414

Notes to editors:

1.       The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our mission is to foster public confidence and participation by promoting integrity, involvement and effectiveness in the democratic process.

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