Following concerns over the handling and appearance of postal votes at the recent Copeland by-election, the SKWAWKBOX has uncovered what appears to be a pattern of postal voting irregularities among Tory associations and candidates.
Electoral Commission rules state that, while it is (surprisingly) permissible for a political party to invite voters to send completed applications for a postal vote back to the party rather than to the local authority’s ERO (Electoral Registration Officer), any forms should give preference to the ERO address:
The SKWAWKBOX uncovered that the Tories are breaking this rule routinely – results gathered from readers indicate that as much as a third of Tory organisations are either giving prominence to their own address or omitting the ERO address completely. Many are providing pre-addressed, postage-paid stationery to make sure the forms come through to them rather than direct to the local authority.
This includes, on a huge scale, the Conservative candidate in the contest for West Midlands regional mayor that will be decided last month.
Now word of another potentially disturbing development has reached this blog.
A Tory candidate in the Llangollen county councillor elections is sending out ‘surveys’ to residents, inviting them to send back details about the issues that concern them. He even features the survey on his Facebook page:
These documents are arriving – complete with a pre-stamped envelope – through the letterboxes of voters in his area and, as you can see, at least some people are completing and returning them.
A closer look at the document reveals that it is not merely a survey. Here’s the front page of the English-language version, which isn’t visible on the Facebook image:
No mention of any other purpose, so it would undoubtedly be fair to say it’s presented as a survey and nothing else.
But at the foot of the third page, we find this:
Tucked away in the exact middle of the list, not drawing attention to itself, is a tick-box for a postal vote.
Parties are allowed to create their own ‘bespoke’ postal vote application forms, but the survey is missing three essential pieces of information to be legally used as an application: a signature, a date for the signature and a date of birth. But a tick in that box will trigger the Tories to post, or visit with, an application form and – as the pre-paid envelopes with the surveys suggest – they may well make it easiest for applicants to send the forms back directly to the Tory campaign.
Moreover, the leaflet poses as a survey but gives the Tory party control of the respondent’s application process – and of their personal data:
Options are given – again in tiny print – to opt out of contact by text, email or phone. But no option is provided to prevent the Conservative Party using your information for the extremely broad category of ‘to facilitate our operation as a political party’. It also says the information will not be given to anyone ‘not connected to the Conservative Party’, but that could be stretched to include PR, marketing, polling companies contracted or otherwise connected to the Tories for all kinds of purposes.
Whether this is intended to pilot the idea for wider use by the national Conservative Party or is just a local variation on the theme this blog has already shown to be widely used by Tory campaigns across the country, one thing is very clear:
The Tories are very keen to control people’s postal vote application process – keen enough to break electoral rules to achieve it.
You have to wonder: why?
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