John Hemming, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, has today initiated proceedings in the High Court to seek a judicial review of the postal voting system, recently shown to have been flagrantly abused in local election polls in that that city, during 2004. Royal Mail is predicting that upto 15 per cent of voters will vote by post this time around, compared with only 2 per cent in 2001.
Full disclosure: I have had a postal vote ever since it became easier to do so, originally as an 'experiment' as I wished to see how the system operated. Apart from the 2001 general election I have voted this way in both Scottish Parliament and Local elections. Given common sense and honesty, there is nothing wrong with the system. However, common sense and honesty are not necessarily always present, as the recent judgement about two local elections in Birmingham has shown. The current system is definitely open to abuse and it is completely unacceptable for the government to continue to state that it is adequate. It is not. If necessary the election must be postponed, or perhaps postal voting should be suspended, except for emergency use as as permitted in the past, until better and practical safeguards can be devised.
Interestingly, last evening on the 'This Week' programme on BBC1 (one of Andrew Neil's politics shows), Michael Portillo observed that voting fraud was also easily possible at polling booths, as constituencies generally have quite large numbers of polling stations and it is possible to impersonate other people and 'steal' their votes. I doubt if this practice has been widespread, but it does raise worrying implications for the integrity of our principal voting method, too, and may also raise the spectre (in my view) that more secure methods of individual identification need to be devised. Given my continuing vehement opposition to the introduction of ID Cards it may readily be appreciated that there is a conundrum here which I have not, quite frankly, yet resolved fully in my own mind.