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Postal Votes

Volume 587: debated on Thursday 30 October 2014

3. What estimate the commission has made of the number of postal votes that arrived late and were not included in the official count at recent elections. (905731)

I am about to give a surprising response, Mr Speaker. The number of postal votes received by returning officers after close of poll at the May 2014 European Parliament elections was 51,790, compared with just under 5 million postal votes returned before close of poll—around 1% of the total. Similar electoral data from all major elections since 2004 can be accessed on the commission’s website, and I will ask the commission to write to my hon. Friend and place a copy in the Library.

Bearing in mind the larger turnout we can expect at next year’s general election, that means that around 100,000 people are likely to return their votes, thinking that they have voted, but in fact they will never be counted. Is there anything the Electoral Commission can do to try to improve that state of affairs?

There is an onus on all of us to get the message to our constituents that anyone voting by post should ensure that they get their postal vote away in good time, especially if they are voting from overseas. All electoral registration officers can make an arrangement with the Royal Mail so that all postal votes in the sorting office on polling day are collected and taken to the returning officer. I think that it is important that all EROs enter into such arrangements.

In 2012 the law was changed to allow returning officers to write to people whose postal votes were rejected because of signature or date of birth errors. Surely it would make sense to allow them to write to those whose postal votes were returned late to notify them and help ensure that they do not do it again.

That is an excellent suggestion. It is not currently done, but I will certainly take it back to the commission so that it can pass it on to returning officers.

How many people living overseas are eligible to register, and of those how many are listed to vote but are too late to get a vote through the post?

About 3.5 million Brits live overseas and are entitled to register to vote. I do not have the figure relating to my hon. Friend’s second question—that is shameful and disgraceful on my part, and I will certainly write to him about it. The good news is that overseas voters can now register to vote online. That has never happened before. We can get the message out to people in that category that they can register online, which will make the process a great deal easier and much more rapid.