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Political Parties "Behind The Curve" On Postal Voting

Postal ballots could start to arrive in the coming days (Alamy)

3 min read

Postal votes will start to arrive in letter boxes nationwide this week. However, according to one elections expert, political parties are “behind the curve” when it comes to targeting people who will vote by post at this General Election.

Households are expected to start receiving postal vote ballot papers in the coming days, ahead of the 4 July election, with as many as one in five people voting via post before the polling stations open in just over three weeks' time.

Jon Tonge, a politics professor at the University of Liverpool, told PoliticsHome that Westminster parties are still following the “traditional model” of campaigning, focused on the finish line of polling day. 

Members of the public have until 5pm next Wednesday (19 June) to register for a postal vote. Tonge said that while the “bulk” of postal votes will be returned later in the campaign, “voting could technically start this week.”

Given the chunk of votes up for grabs, Tonge believes parties on all sides are “behind the curve on it, to be quite honest,” in their approach. 

According to Electoral Commission data, 21 per cent of all valid votes at the 2019 general election were postal votes, compared to 21.7 per cent in 2017, and 20.5 per cent in 2015. 

Rules around postal voting changed in 2001, and before this, the rate of postal voting was at around 2 per cent. 

As Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, recently wrote for The House, people who voted by post in the UK tend to be older. The over 75s are more than 20 per centage points more likely to vote by post than those aged 18-24, according to recent research.

Tonge said it was an "was an extraordinary omission by the parties that one in five votes will be cast in advance via postal voting".

He told PoliticsHome: “Parties still like to go with the traditional model that everyone rolls up at the polling station on the day. It’s true that four out of five do, but that percentage is rising.

“They still have this really traditional model where everything goes to a climax with an eve of election rally, and that’s just so dated.” 

The timing of the election at the start of July could increase the proportion of postal voters this time around compared to 2019, given the likelihood of people being on their summer holiday. 

Tonge said the “ticking back” in the numbers of people who voted by post last time around was because of the December timing that meant “very few people were on holiday”. 

According to a briefing from the House of Commons library in November, the seat with the highest proportion of registered postal voters in England was Blaydon in Tyne and Wear, where 43.6 per cent had a postal vote. The seat has been abolished by the boundary changes at this election, but there were similar numbers to be seen in other neighbouring constituencies across the North East. 

In Houghton and Sunderland South, represented by Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson, 43.4 per cent of the electorate were registered for a postal vote, and in Newcastle upon Tyne North, the rate was at 42.9 per cent. 

Many of the seats with lower postal vote take up were in the West Midlands, with Birmingham, Ladywood at the bottom of the table, with 7.6 per cent postal vote registration, followed by Birmingham Hodge Hill on 8.6 per cent and Birmingham, Perry Barr on 8.9 per cent. 

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