Indyref postmortem IV: Postal voting considered harmful

I think it’s quite likely the next independence referendum will happen sooner rather than later, so it’s important to have a look at what we could have done better, not in order to point fingers at anybody, but simply to make sure that we win next time. This is the fourth of several indyref postmortems.

counting ballot photo
Photo by -sylvia.
I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists who believe the independence referendum was rigged. Electoral fraud might have happened in a few places, but not to such an extent that it can possibly have turned a Yes into a No.

However, I still think postal voting as practised in this country is a very problematic.

Firstly, it’s democratically questionable when there’s a late shift in the public opinion. As a campaigner, I don’t like the fact that there is one deadline for convincing postal voters and another one for everybody else, and from a postal voter’s perspective, it’s horrible if a late development in the campaign suddenly makes you realise you’ve changed your mind.

Secondly, it’s not healthy for democracy when conspiracy theories flourish. Ideally, everybody should be able to convince themselves that no fraud took place, and huge numbers of postal votes makes this much harder, especially when there have been many examples of fraud using postal votes in the past.

Thirdly, Westminster politicians have been pushing postal voting in a vain attempt to stem the tide of low voter turnout. However, the independence referendum demonstrated that people are very happy to vote, so long as their vote counts and the election matters. The corrupt Westminster system with its FPTP electoral system and nearly identical main parties might need postal voting as a form of life support, but independence referendums most definitely do not.

Of course there needs to be a mechanism in place to allow everybody to vote, also those who cannot go to the polling place for various reasons. In Denmark, in lieu of postal voting voters can cast their vote at council offices and embassies for a period of time before the election if they know they will absent on the day, and polling places have a small mobile team who can take a small ballot box out to immobile voters. Mechanisms such as these could be considered in Scotland, too.

Hopefully the Scottish Parliament will soon get more responsibilities for conducting elections and referendums in Scotland, and if that happens, postal voting should be replaced by a better system, hopefully in time for the next independence referendum.

4 thoughts on “Indyref postmortem IV: Postal voting considered harmful

  • 30/03/2015 at 08:57
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    Thomas
    I am currently living in France and have no vote in Presidential elections but because of my residency have a vote in elections below that.

    If you are not available or physically incapable of going to the polling station, showing your polling card and Identity Card (or Passport) and physically vote, you can nominate a proxy. The proxy has to go the Mairie with a Procuration duly completed to obtain the one time, right to vote for that person, That visit requires also the Identity Card or Passport stage.

    At the Polling Station, yes it is same rigmaroll, to cast the proxy vote. Many people do it if they have to, as it is a Duty in France to vote.

    It is a Duty but so saying, many have deliberately refused to vote in the current round of council elections as the choice is really Sarkosy (yes he is back! FFS) and Marie Le Pen’s mob. It looks like that enough people held their noses and voted against Le Pen but many people are not happy with the quality of choice presented to them.

    I suspect the reverberations of an SNP ascendency in Scotland on May the 8th, and the subsequent period of political constipation will reverberate around Europe and some of the “foreign'” correspondents based London will be leaving the Westminster bubble and setting up temporary camp in Scotland, especially if the Scottish tale wags the English dog.

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