Postal voting

Postal voting

Postal voting describes the method of voting in an election whereby ballot papers are distributed and/or returned by post to electors, in contrast to electors voting in person at a polling station or electronically via an electronic voting system.

It is of benefit to people who may not be able to attend an election in person, either through a physical disability or absence from the locality. This method of voting is available to voters upon application (sometimes with restrictions) in statutory elections in many democratic countries.

On the other hand, concerns about postal voting have been raised as to whether it complies with the requirements of a secret ballot, in that people cast their vote outside the security of a polling station. There have been cases of electoral fraud with postal votes in the UK (including at the 2004 European and local government elections in Birmingham) [ [ Judge upholds vote-rigging claims (BBC, 4. april 2005)] ] [ [,15803,1458341,00.html New fears over postal vote fraud (Guardian, 13. April 2005)] ] [ [,,19809-1564522,00.html Labour to halt postal vote fraud but only after election (Times, April 11, 2005)] ]

Postal voting can be a way to prevent manipulation of an election through get out the vote efforts, for instance, in state conventions of a society, in which supporters of a cause or candidate bus in their supporters to vote and then bus them back.

All-Postal Voting

"All-Postal Voting" is a variant of Postal Voting, where all electors receive their ballot papers through the post. Depending on the system applied, electors may have to return their ballot papers by post, or there may be an opportunity to deliver them by hand to a specified location.

There is some evidence that this method of voting leads to higher turnout than one where people vote in person or have to apply for a postal vote. Critics suggest that this is only a temporary impact, and that there are dangers in people using ballot papers intended for other electors.

This system is used for local elections in New Zealand. Unlike the United States, no security envelope is used. The ballot is simply sent in the mailing envelope. It has been tested by a large number of local authorities in the United Kingdom for their elections, and in 2004 it was used for elections to the European Parliament and local authorities in four of the English regions (see below for more details).

Experience of Postal Voting and All-Postal Voting by Country

United States

Vote-by-mail is a variation of postal voting in the United States in which a ballot is mailed to the home of a registered voter, the voter fills it out and returns it via postal mail. This process eliminates the requirements to staff and run a polling center during an election, and can result in considerable cost savings to taxpayers. Balloting materials may be sent via the United States Postal Service without prepayment of postage. [ [ USPS DMM 703.8] ]

Ballots are sent out, usually, three weeks before the election date, after a voter's pamphlet has been distributed. To vote by mail, an individual marks the ballot for their choice of the candidates (or writes in their name), places the ballot in a secrecy envelope, seals it, places it in the provided mailing envelope, seals it and signs and dates the back of the mailing envelope. This envelope is then either stamped and mailed at any mailbox, or dropped off (postage free) at a local ballot collection center.

There is a cut off date for mailing ballots and it is determined by the local voting jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, postmarks do not count, and ballots must be received by a certain time on election day. In other jurisdictions, a ballot must have a postmark on or before the day of the election and be received prior to the date of certification. Many vote-by-mail jurisdictions enlist the help of volunteers to take ballots in walk up "Drop off Booths" or drive-up "Quick Drop" locations. The Help America Vote Act requires some polling options, often at central election headquarters, with machines designed for voting by those disabled who cannot vote a normal ballot.

First State with vote-by-mail

In the United States of America, the first state to do this was Oregon. In 1998, Oregonians passed an initiative requiring that all elections be conducted by mail. Voters may also drop their ballots off at a county designated official drop site. Oregon has since reduced the cost of elections.

Other states with vote by mail

Washington - In 1993, Washington State began allowing voters to vote by mail in all elections. Currently, thirty-seven out of the state's thirty-nine counties are entirely vote-by-mail. The state's two largest counties, King and Pierce, still maintain poll sites, despite a large majority of voters in those counties voting by mail. King County plans on switching over to all mail voting either in 2008 or 2009, while Pierce County is still considering the issue.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom votes cast via postal voting are called "Postal votes". Any elector is entitled to request a postal vote (known as "Postal voting on demand") without giving a reason.

There have been allegations of electoral fraud as the postal vote does not need to be sent to the voter's address but can be sent anywhere of their choosing, allowing fraudsters to 'farm' postal votes. As a result, electors requesting a postal vote must now provide their date of birth and signature, which can be matched with that submitted with the postal vote.

However, this measure does not tackle cases of fraud where false names are added to the electoral register and postal votes obtained, since the same fraudster provides the personal identifiers for both the registration and the postal vote.

There have been cases of electroral fraud with postal votes in the UK (including at the 2004 European and local government elections in Birmingham) [ [ Judge upholds vote-rigging claims (BBC, 4. April 2005)] ] [ [,15803,1458341,00.html New fears over postal vote fraud (Guardian, 13. April 2005)] ] [ [,,19809-1564522,00.html Labour to halt postal vote fraud but only after election (Times, April 11, 2005)] ]

All-Postal Voting pilots

In 2000, the UK government passed legislation to permit local authorities to apply to pilot innovations in the method of voting at local elections (including all-postal voting, electronic voting, and voting at weekends), with the first pilot elections being held in May that year.

In May 2000, 2002 and 2003, many local authorities piloted all-postal voting at their local elections. In May 2003, 35 local authorities did so. The outcome of those pilots was a recommendation from the Electoral Commission that all-postal voting should be adopted as the normal method of voting at local elections in the UK. This reflected the positive impact on voter turnout at these elections (in some places, turnout doubled) and the fact that there was no evidence of an increase in electoral fraud.

The local elections scheduled for May 2004 were postponed to June and combined with the European Parliament elections. The UK government used this opportunity to trial all-postal voting in these elections across four regions: North East, North West, East Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The government faced heavy criticism from opposition parties due to the decision to over-rule the Electoral Commission's recommendation for no more than three regions to be trialled. There were numerous reports of problems, and due to the delays in passing the legislation many ballot papers were received quite late. However, apart from one ward in Hull where the election had to be re-run, the pilot elections were completed successfully and the turnout in the four regions doubled compared to 1999. In the other regions, turnout increased by half. Again, there was no evidence of an increase in electoral fraud in the pilot regions, though postal voting fraud did occur in other regions (see above).

Nevertheless, the Electoral Commission report into these elections drew back from their earlier recommendation because its research showed that a large minority of people wished to retain the option of voting at polling stations. Thus, the Commission recommended that a new model of multiple voting methods should be developed, including postal voting, rather than proceeding with elections run entirely by all-postal voting.


Vote-by-mail has created some controversy. Some people oppose changing the tradition of going to a polling place to vote, arguing that requiring voters to go to polling places provides greater community, ensured secrecy, and importance to the voting process, while avoiding early voting. Others disagree with this argument, arguing that voting at home provides equal or greater privacy than designated polling places, and do not agree that there is a reduced sense of community or importance in voting associated with vote-by-mail. Concerns have been raised about the possibility of election fraud in vote-by-mail elections, varying from risks of multiple voting to the destruction of mailed ballots, but actual incidents are rare in practice and not known to be more likely than elsewhere.

Postal voting might increase the pressure of a dominant spouse to make their partner "vote right".Fact|date=October 2008 However, many voters appreciate the additional time to study candidates and ballot measures and to discuss their options with family and friends.Fact|date=October 2008

It is generally agreed that most people appreciate the convenience of voting by mail, but there is significant disagreement about how much and whether this preference actually translates into increased voter turnout.

When Oregon's 1998 ballot measure appeared, it was probably the leading watercooler discussion issue on the ballot. The voter's pamphlet arguments ( [ here] ) capture the intensity of the disagreement.

More recently, Project Vote published their findings in an article titled "Vote-by-Mail Doesn't Deliver" byMichael Slater and Teresa James. The article's conclusion states, "Thanks largely to Oregon’s experience, many reform-minded advocates and policymakers have become persuaded that vote-by-mail stimulates increased voter turnout with few drawbacks. We think the facts don’t support their arguments. VBM reinforces the stratification of the electorate; it’s more amenable to both fraud and manipulation than voting at polling places; and it depends too much on the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service." ( [] )

The No Vote By Mail Project has also documented the rise of the multi-week vote counts, vote-buying, granny-farming, and many other problems and concerns that have arisen due to the increased use of absentee ballots and propagation of Vote-by Mail systems. ( [] )

In Malaysia, opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim alleges that postal votes has been used by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in securing seats in certain constituencies. [cite news|publisher=ABC News|date=March 3, 2008|title=Malaysian oppn accuse govt of postal vote fraud|url=|accessdate=2008-04-24] He also said that in one particular constituency (Setiawangsa), he claimed that his Parti Keadilan Rakyat had actually won during the 2008 elections, before 14,000 postal votes came in awarding the incumbent BN parliamentarian the seat with a majority of 8,000 votes. [cite news|publisher=The Sun (Malaysia)|date=March 27, 2008|title=One foot in the door|url=|accessdate=2008-04-24] In Malaysia, only teachers, military personnel, and policemen based away from their constituencies are eligible to submit postal votes.


ee also

*Absentee ballot
*Electronic Voting
*Election fraud

External links

* [ Oregon state page on vote-by-mail]
* [ Highlights of Oregon's vote-by-mail history]
* [ American University study finding vote-by-mail harmful]
* [ No Vote By Mail, Problems with Absentee, Postal, and Vote-by-mail systems]
* [ Vote-by-Mail: The Real Winner Is Democracy By Bill Bradbury]

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