In May, West Midlands voters will elect a regional (‘combined authority’) mayor for the first time. The Conservative party has made no secret of the fact that it sees success in the mayoral contest as a key to their fortunes in the area and is determined to achieve it:
It appears that ‘going all out’ includes a willingness to break electoral rules.
The Electoral Commission makes it clear that all political parties are expected to adhere to certain rules regarding their behaviour during election campaigns – including how they solicit postal votes and postal vote applications.
While parties are (surprisingly) allowed to invite voters to send applications for a postal vote to their party office, they must make it clear that the preferred application address is the local Electoral Registration Officer’s (ERO), to avoid the suspicion of tampering with applications and the potential for vote fraud:
As the Birmingham Mail article linked above points out, the Tories planned to mailshot at least one million households in the region as part of their electoral campaign. Which means the scale of their rules breach is colossal.
Concerned voters in the area, who are aware of the SKWAWKBOX’s recent articles on widespread Tory breaches of this kind and potential concerns over postal vote irregularities in the Copeland by-election, have sent in copies of the Tories’ mailshot leaflet specifically aimed at persuading voters to apply to vote by post.
And the leaflets are in clear breach of the above rule.
Here is page one of the leaflet they have been sending to households in the region:
The areas boxed in red (red added by the SKWAWKBOX) show that the specific purpose of the leaflet is to persuade voters to register to vote by post – and that preference is given to returning the application form to the Tories.
The ‘freepost’ option is mentioned first and the council option – with no address provided – is second. It’s not only the order of mention – given a choice between returning the form in a prepaid (not actually Freepost), pre-completed envelope or paying postage themselves to return the form to an address that they would have to find themselves, many voters will opt for the free, easier option.
This is a clear breach of the obligation for a party to show the council’s ERO address as the preferred option.
This is not just a technicality. The Electoral Commission issued the rule to prevent ‘suspicion’ that applications may be tampered with – because they could be tampered with in order to facilitate electoral fraud via postal votes.
There are further concerns over the content of the leaflet, which is coloured and constructed to make it less than apparent that it is sent by the Tories. But a key concern is the extremely small print in the bottom left of the final page – this time the red box has not been added by this blog:
It’s likely to be hard to read on your screen, but this very small text advises that anyone completing the form and returning it to the Conservatives is automatically giving the Tories permission to store and use their data in perpetuity – even if they have registered a TPS (telephone preference service) opt-out to say they don’t want uninvited marketing or political contacts.
So filling in this form and returning it in the ‘convenient’, prepaid reply envelope is not just registering to vote by post. It’s not even just giving the Tories control over the handling of your application.
It’s putting yourself in their hands – permanently unless you specifically opt out – as a ‘data subject’ for them to contact directly however often and in whatever way they wish.
The Tories are mailing leaflets to a million households, covering several million people. Not every household will necessarily receive this leaflet. However, the people who received this leaflet are not elderly, infirm or disabled and likely to need to register for a postal vote. They are young adults.
So it seems the Tories are not being very choosy in their choice of people to whom they are sending these leaflets – and the numbers involved are probably huge.
The SKWAWKBOX will be sending details of this breach to the Electoral Commission – and raising the issue of the data permission with the Information Commissioner’s Office as well, in case it is legally problematic.
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