The SKWAWKBOX has recently covered concerns over the propriety of the Copeland by-election and tactics of threat and impersonation being used by local Tory councillors and activists in Pendle, not too far south.
Now, at the other end of the country the Tories have also been caught breaching another key electoral rule – and one that concerns postal votes, which are also at the centre of concerns in Copeland.
Surprisingly – to this author at least – electoral rules do allow political parties to invite voters to send postal ballot application forms (not actual completed ballot papers) to party offices rather than to the local authority conducting the election. This would appear to be fraught with the risk of facilitating potential fraudulent applications, but it is currently permitted.
However, political parties are not allowed to encourage voters to do so. In fact, the Postal Vote Code of Conduct instructs them to discourage it by making the official return address.
However, the Somerset Conservatives website breaches this rule, putting the Tories office as the first address for completed applications and failing to indicate that the local ERO is the preferred destination, let alone providing the Returning Officer’s address:
A local resident wrote to Somerset County Council’s Strategic Manager of Governance and Risk about this breach and received this response:
Thanks for sending a scan of the letter. Having studied the Code of conduct for campaigners in Great Britain and spoken to the Electoral Commission the letter should have the Electoral Services Office as the primary address for return of the form. The letter can include a secondary address.
Clearly this is not the case with the example that you sent through. Campaigners can receive completed forms and should then forward them to the Electoral Registration Officer’s address within two working days of receipt.
In the light of what you have sent through Pat Flaherty as County Returning Officer has raised this formally as an issue with the Conservative Party elections agent to point out what needs to happen under the requirements of the Code.
This may seem like a small ‘technicality’, but it’s in such seemingly-insignificant areas that space for election-tampering can exist – affecting the wellbeing of thousands and even millions of our citizens. And if the Tories are prepared to mis-allocate or completely omit hundreds of thousands of pounds of electoral spending, then they’ll exploit any opportunity to tilt elections their way.
So the SKWAWKBOX needs your help. This writer has checked a few local Tory sites at random but can’t check every such site in the country. If you read this article, please take a few minutes to find your local Conservative website and see what they say about the return of postal vote applications – and if you find any that do not meet the Code of Conduct requirements shown above, put the website URL in the comments of this article, so the any breaches can be exposed and corrected.
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