Questions are beginning to be asked around a number of anomalies at the recent British General Election, particularly surrounding the issue of postal voting.
Lord Ashcroft, who is known for conducting his own private polling and studies around many British political issues, has revealed that an astonishing 38% of all votes cast at the general election were postal votes. This compares with a figure of 15.3% in 2010, 16.4% in 2015 and 18% in 2017.
“We found 38% saying they had voted by post. The Conservatives won 48% of postal votes, with 29% going to Labour and 13% to the Lib Dems. 41% of Conservative and Lib Dem voters voted by post, compared to 34% of Labour and 33% of SNP voters.”Lord Ashcroft polls. The sample was 13,000.
The number of postal votes more than doubling across the country in just two years is certainly questionable if not outright alarming.
The number of postal votes cast may explain the confusion that Labour activists have had around the turnouts, with long queues of young Labour voters being noted at many ballot boxes. The scenes at the polling stations and narrowing in the polls gave hopes of a hung parliament before the devastating exit polls were revealed early on election night.
The postal vote controversy had been raised even before the election was held, with Dominic Raab seeming to indicate that he was privy to information contained in the votes. Senior political figures having access to data from the vote data was seemingly confirmed by Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of BBC News.
Being interviewed on the potential for losing his seat in a “Portillo moment”, Raab suggests to the interviewer that he should “look at the postal votes”, seemingly having drawn personal confidence from trends he has seen in those ballots.
Kuenssberg seemed to confirm that senior figures had information on the vote before the election, telling BBC’s Politics Live live on air that the voting trend was “grim” for Labour.
“The postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties – they’re not meant to look at it – but they do kind of get a hint. And on both sides people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking pretty grim for Labour in a lot of parts of the country.”Laura Kuenssberg, Politics Live, December 11, 2019
Under electoral law, the ballots must remain face down and secret until counting on election night, with the returning officer only checking them for identification purposes. It is legal for a candidate to watch the ballots being opened, but it is expressly forbidden for tallies to be recorded for candidates or to communicate information on trends to those candidates.
In 2017, more than 12,000 voters in Leeds saw their postal vote go uncounted “because they either didn’t fill in the form properly, or didn’t return it in time”. The same reasons were given for the 15,000 uncounted votes in Bristol, 13,500 in Cambridgeshire, 17,500 in Birmingham and 23,000 across Berkshire.
During the Brexit referendum, close to 1 million postal ballots weren’t returned with 170,000 not counted.
The role of the private company IDOX in the postal vote process and British elections is coming under increasing scrutiny, the company being responsible for 90% of all digital software and services provided to UK local authorities including postal vote management support. IDOX train and provide staff to deal with postal votes, including counting and providing a software register of all requested postal votes.
Former Tory cabinet member Peter Lilly was a senior non-executive director at IDOX until retiring in April 2018. They have interests across the private sector including engineering, gas, oil and pharmaceuticals.
Having won an amazing amount of contracts since the 2010 privatisation of electoral system management, by May of 2013 IDOX boasted control of the majority of elections across the UK, being given contracts across Scotland for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Following the referendum, police in Scotland investigated whether postal votes had been tampered with, prosecutors confirming that there would be no prosecutions after the 2015 general election. That election was also controlled by IDOX.