I am writing in response to the anonymous letter headed “Practice is not illegal” on political party workers assisting with postal votes.
I can assure your readers I am certainly not in breach of the law concerning council employees in politically restricted posts. The local protocol referred to by the writer was drawn up independently by my staff in the light of our own experiences in administering the postal votes system and in no sense is it intended to support the view of any political party.
We produced the protocol as it had become very clear to us that the involvement of party workers is leading to the whole postal vote system falling into public disrepute. The protocol goes further than the present National Code and essentially asks party workers not to do two things.
The first is that they do not try to procure signed postal vote application forms from electors but instead provide the details of anyone wanting a postal vote to my elections staff who will then deal with the elector direct. This would avoid suspicions and allegations of improper pressure and people signing forms they do not really understand.
The second is that they do not handle voters’ ballot papers or go around trying to collect them from voters who should be left to fill in their ballot papers themselves and then post them back themselves. This would avoid suspicions and allegations of undue influence or stealing ballot papers.
I am pleased to say the Electoral Commission recently announced it intends to amend the National Code from next year to incorporate what is in our protocol and completely remove party worker involvement in the handling of postal applications and ballot papers because of the effect this is having on public perception of the system.
I will be asking agents of the political parties for this year’s election to adopt early the proposed protocol from the Electoral Commission.
Stephen Barnes (Chief Executive)
Pendle Borough Council