Minister tells MP voters will keep ballot box rights

Gavin Strang MP has been told by Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) Minister, Bridget Prentice MP, that voters will keep the right to vote at polling stations.

All-postal ballots have been under active consideration by the Government as a way of improving voter participation. Pilot all-postal ballots have been held, with no option of voting in person at a ballot box, and in December 2004 the Government reaffirmed its support for keeping open the option of all-postal voting at UK statutory elections.

Gavin Strang raised the matter in the House of Commons last month, asking the Minister ‘Does she accept that the right of each individual to go to the polling station on his or her own and cast his or her vote in complete secrecy is sacrosanct to our electoral process? While still keen to encourage the opportunity to vote by post, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Bridget Prentice MP, replied ‘However, many people like the idea of going to the polling station, standing in the polling booth and using the little stubby pencil to cast their vote appropriately, so we will, of course, ensure that they will still have the opportunity to do so’. (Hansard 9 May column 162)

Gavin Strang wrote to Bridget Prentice for confirmation of the Government’s position, and the Minister has now replied. In her letter to Gavin Strang, Bridget Prentice confirms there are no plans to impose all-postal voting, and that voters will keep the right to cast their vote in person at a polling station.

Speaking in Westminster today Gavin Strang, MP for Edinburgh East, said

‘I am delighted that Bridget Prentice has confirmed what she told me in the House of Commons. The Government believes that individuals should always have the right to go to a polling station to vote.

‘There are many good reasons why we should retain the historic right to go to the polling station to cast our vote in person.

‘Not only can postal voting increase the risk of fraud, we must also recognise that compulsory postal voting could make it harder for people to vote as they wish. I have always been concerned about families where one member is particularly dominant. It would be too easy for that dominant individual to make it difficult for other household members to cast different votes.

‘Now it is clear that postal voting will not be imposed, and that people will still be able to vote in person, in secret, at a polling station. I believe that this is good news for democracy.’

Notes for editors

  • Local authorities in England and Wales retain the option to apply to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs to hold an all-postal ballot, but provision must be made for people to vote in person at a ballot box. In Scotland, the form of local elections is a matter for the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament, and the conduct of elections for the Scottish Parliament is a matter for the UK Government and the Westminster Parliament.