To ask the hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, what assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the (a) role of postal ballots in increasing voter participation and engagement and (b) the potential effects of its restrictions on the handling of postal ballots on voter participation and engagement.
The Electoral Commission informs me that it conducts regular public opinion research following elections and has asked some specific questions on the impact of postal voting on voter participation. Following the English and Welsh local elections in 2008 the Commission's post-election research found that nearly six in 10 (58%) of those that voted by post (or 7% of all people) said that the availability of postal voting encouraged them to vote. Four in 10 (42%) said it had little effect.
Postal voters, in the survey, who said that the availability of postal voting encouraged them to vote, were also asked if they would have still voted if postal voting was not available. Just over half (56%) said they would not otherwise have voted.
The Electoral Commission’s recommendation to restrict the involvement of campaigners in the absent vote administration process was based on a range of evidence, including public opinion research. The Commission believes that campaigners play a vital role in encouraging participation in elections, including helping to publicise and explain different voting methods to electors who might not be able to vote in person at a polling station. They can also play an important role in encouraging people to register to vote. It does not believe it is appropriate, however, for campaigners to be directly involved in the voting process, including completing absent vote applications and handling postal ballot packs.
The Commission carried out qualitative research with the public into perceptions of electoral fraud. This research found that the proposal to restrict the involvement of campaigners in the completion or return of postal vote application forms or postal ballot packs was considered to be a positive change. This was because participants felt it would increase the overall security of elections without having a negative impact on voter participation.