Tag Archive | "postal voting"

Farewell new dawns (26 July 2006)

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Farewell new dawns (26 July 2006)

Posted on 26 July 2006 by admin

Daytime election counts might make sense but we will miss the surprises and suspense of election night.

The elections minister, Bridget Prentice, has announced that election night may be cancelled in future. This is not some dastardly scheme to abolish democracy, but a possible consequence of recent reforms to make postal voting more secure. Much as it pains me to concede the point, it makes a lot of sense. Accuracy is better than speed, and it is important that only valid ballot papers are used to calculate the result – the time taken to verify signatures on postal vote returns is a small sacrifice for greater security. Delaying the count until the next day will also mean that counting staff are fresh and better able to do their job without making mistakes. In a close election, this could prevent some recounts, saving time and money.

And yet … there is something very satisfying about the ritual of election night even in a dull election like 2001, and for political excitement a close or surprising election night like 1992 cannot be matched. First come the exit polls, then the straws in the wind that are the early declaring seats, and then the tidal rush of results as the final pattern becomes clear. Election nights are demanding for politicians and broadcasters and the public sometimes sees both at their best and most candid while they react to unfolding events. I fondly recall Cecil Parkinson’s gallows humour in 1997 (on hearing that the results declared were something like 180 Labour to 2 Conservative, he said: “Oh good, now we can have a leadership election”), and Michael Portillo realising that one of the benefits of losing his seat was not having to answer Jeremy Paxman’s questions.

While tired and emotional (in the literal and sometimes in the euphemistic sense) the truth sometimes slips out. There is something of the late night about absorbing electoral defeat or victory – it will look very different in the harsh light of early Friday afternoon. That clear, beautiful dawn of May 2 1997, the light gradually spilling over the Royal Festival Hall as Labour’s leaders took in the scale of the triumph, dancing deliriously (and badly) was an essential part of that election.

For the observer it will also change. As well as watching the unguarded moments of the politicians, the occasional broadcasting slip-up, and the spectacular computer graphics, election night can be a fine party for the interested but not deeply committed. It will just not be the same watching the results in a little pop-up window on the computer at work, as if it were some sort of desultory Test match. The exit polls will get more important, as they will be all the electorate, and the financial markets, will have for over 12 hours.

Daylight election results can be interesting. In 1950 a lot of results were declared during the day on Friday and crowds in Trafalgar Square followed the “battle of the gap” on screens as the Conservatives whittled down Labour’s overnight lead. That said, 84% of the electorate voted in 1950 compared to only 61% in 2005, and getting people interested in elections is more important than making the results service entertaining. I doubt it will make much difference to voters, but to the candidates in an agonising state of suspense, and to election buffs, daytime counts just wouldn’t be the same. I would certainly miss the Night of the Long Anoraks.


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Queen’s Speech (May 18 2005)

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Queen’s Speech (May 18 2005)

Posted on 18 May 2005 by admin

There were several proposed pieces of constitutional and electoral legislation in the Queen’s Speech – unfortunately no Representation of the People (Fairness) Bill, so the campaign goes on…

The government has responded to many of the concerns over vote fraud and the possible issues around the increase in postal voting, although its proposals could go further on issues such as individual registration. The proposed Electoral Administration Bill – and the stinging words of Richard Mawrey, the judge at the Birmingham Election Court, about ‘banana republic’ standards of democracy – are an overdue recognition of the risks in our under-policed electoral system. It imposes prison sentences for fraudulent handling of postal ballots, checkable signatures to verify the identity of voters, and bans the regrettable but widespread practice of having political parties handling postal vote applications.

Lords reform was also in prospect, but there will be yet another round of consultations and committee meetings on what must be the most over-analysed item on the constitutional agenda. Implementation of the admirable Richard report on the government of Wales also seems to face some hurdles, although more powers will be devolved to Cardiff.

Much of this seems welcome, as far as it goes, but for every ballot paper misused by fraudsters there are thousands that are casually thrown away by an unrepresentative system. Until this is addressed, we are still in banana republic territory, without even the saving grace of being a republic.


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