Over 1 million people in Scotland are now registered to vote by post. That's almost 1 in 4 of the electorate. Back in 1999, at the first-ever Holyrood election, it was around 1 in a 100. This is an extraordinary political development which has serious implications for the health of our democracy in the long-term.
On Thursday 15th April 2021 postal ballot papers for the Holyrood election on 6th May, started to arrive on people's doorsteps. The above pic shows the top five parties standing in the North East Scotland Region.
In the table below, from the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, we see in the fourth column that 1,010,638 people have registered to vote by post for the Holyrood election. This is out of a total electorate in Scotland of 4,241,904 (23.8%). (Applications for a Postal Vote for this election closed on 6th April.)
You can see the table clearly by clicking on it, or it can be viewed here, where it can also be magnified.
Look at how Postal Voting has increased as a percentage of the electorate, since the first Holyrood election in 1999. (After 2011, the election schedule was changed to every 5 years.)
1999 - 1.2%
2003 - 3.6%
2007 - 11.2%
2011 - 14.1%
2016 - 17.7%
2021 - 23.8%
Since 2001, any elector has been entitled to request a postal vote without giving a reason (except in Northern Ireland). This is known as Postal Voting on Demand. This is what has led to the massive increases year on year.
Previously, a postal vote was only available to those who had to give a reason why they could not make it to a Polling Station due to disability or ill-health, employment hours, planned holidays, or geographical isolation, such as on an island (or an oil rig) requiring one to cross water to reach the Polling Station!
A Force For Good does not support the concept of Postal Voting for anyone without a valid reason.
OUR POSITION – STATION, BOOTH, BOX
A Force For Good believes that all voters have a fundamental democratic right to cast a vote
1. in the convenience and safety of a Polling Station;
2. in the privacy of a Voting Booth, and;
3. in the security of a Ballot Box.
We believe that Station, Booth, and Box is the voting system which should be upheld as the "gold standard" of the democratic process.
Voting at a Polling Station is a public ritual. It seems appropriate to do this publicly for something which has public consequences! For some of us, it seems more appropriate to partake in this public ritual than to do it within our own "closed doors".
However, our advocacy of Station, Booth, and Box as the most private, secure, and integral method of voting, is built on several key democratic Principles, which are compromised and corrupted by the Postal Voting on Demand system. Let's lay them out:
1. THE PRINCIPLE of ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE
The principle of one person, one vote is compromised by Postal Voting on Demand.
Several years ago, one of our colleagues told us that when presented with the two ballot papers on her kitchen table, her husband told her that he wasn't interested in the election. He asked her to make the decision for him (email communication, 6 June 2004)! She did not do so, knowing it was illegal. Yet, if she had done so then she would effectively have voted twice.
Of course, most people are law abiding, and will keep it legal. But the temptation to abuse the system and vote twice is there, and it can be done. In a proper democratic system, the opportunity to abuse the system in this way should not be possible.
2. THE PRINCIPLE of THE PRIVATE VOTE
A Postal Voting on Demand system compromises the privacy of the vote.
That is because a postal vote can be filled in while another person is present. It can be filled in while another person can see it. It can also be shown to another person. In the worst case, it can be taken off someone and filled in by another person!
Postal voting enables behaviour which is against the principle of the private vote.
3. THE PRINCIPLE of FREEDOM from UNDUE INFLUENCE and INTIMIDATION
Related to the essential matter of the privacy of the vote, is the fact that Postal Voting on Demand increases the potential for undue influence and intimidation.
This does not occur in the privacy of a Voting Booth.
Indeed, the Voting Booth was established to ensure that there could be no undue influence or intimidation exercised. It was established in order that the casting of the vote would be an entirely private matter.
Under a large-scale Postal Voting on Demand system, many people will be filling in their ballot papers in the presence of spouses, partners, relations, flatmates and friends.
In some cases, this will clearly expose the voter to a degree of undue influence, perhaps even intimidation – gentle or threatening – which cannot happen in the privacy of the Voting Booth.
Some voters may even prefer to have voted at the Polling Station but have found themselves recorded as Postal Voters against their will.
4. THE PRINCIPLE of VOTE-CASTING CERTAINTY
A Ballot Box ensures that the voter can be certain that his or her vote has been cast – into the Ballot Box.
However, with a postal voting method, the voter casts the vote into the post box and hopes for the best.
How does the voter know that the vote will arrive safely?
With a certain amount of mail going missing each year, how can we be certain that our vote will even be delivered?