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All voters can apply to cast their vote by post (except for in Northern Ireland).

Fraud

Postal voting has been associated with the potential for electoral fraud. Steps have been taken to address this risk: postal voters have been required to provide personal identifiers since 2007.

Sending out postal votes and receiving them back in time for the count

There has been concern that postal vote packs have not reached overseas voters in time for them to return their papers before the close of the poll. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 extended the timetable for Parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 working days (in line with local government elections). Postal votes can now be sent out earlier (on day 6: 19 days before an election).

The 2015 General Election

The 2015 General Election was the first where electoral registers (partially) compiled under the new Individual Electoral Registration (IER) system were used, and the first since the extension of the election timetable. While electoral administrators reported some issues, such as difficulties with getting postal ballot papers printed in time to send them to overseas voters, the Electoral Commission reported that turnout among postal voters was high and postal voters were satisfied with the postal voting arrangements. There were a number of allegations of electoral fraud that are currently under investigation.

Turnout

Turnout among postal voters has been higher than among persons voting at polling stations. At the 2015 general election, turnout among postal voters was 85.8%; turnout among persons voting at polling stations was 63.2%.[1]  

How many people use postal votes?

The proportion of voters using postal votes has increased over the last three general elections. Different parts of the UK have different rates of postal voting: at the 2015 general election, Wales had the highest proportion of voters using postal votes (17.7%), while England had the lowest (16.7%) (except for Northern Ireland, where postal voting is not available on demand).

The proportion of postal voters also differs among English regions: at the 2015 general election, it ranged from 13.4% in the West Midlands to 26% in the North East. The highest proportion of postal voters was found in the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency (43.3%); the lowest in Birmingham Perry Bar (7.4%).[2]

All-postal voting ballots

Constituencies where all-postal voting ballots have previously been held tend to have higher rates of postal voting. Several local authorities piloted all-postal voting for local and European elections between 2000 and 2004. The 2004 regional referendum on whether there should be a North East regional Assembly was also an all-postal voting poll. All-postal voting was found to increase turnout.

History of postal voting legislation

Postal voting was first introduced for people serving in the armed forces shortly after World War I. It was extended to certain categories of civilians in 1948. Postal voting was made available under certain conditions in 1985, and on demand in 2000. Measures to verify the identity of postal voters were introduced in 2007. The time available to post postal ballot packs for Parliamentary elections, and receive them back, was fixed in 2011 and extended in 2013. A requirement for Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to notify postal voters when their vote has been rejected was introduced in 2013.

[1] Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, The 2015 general election: aspects of participation and administration, August 2015, available at the Electoral Commission’s website

[2] Ibid


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