Election watchdog warns of ‘pressures’ on UK postal vote system

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The Electoral Commission has warned the UK’s postal voting system is facing “pressures” ahead of Thursday’s election, after delays to some ballot deliveries in Scotland and parts of southern England.

Several Scottish councils were forced to run weekend emergency help centres for voters whose postal voting packs had not arrived, while parts of London, Essex and Devon have also faced reported delays to deliveries.

The Electoral Commission, the UK’s elections watchdog, said tens of thousands of postal votes had been delivered over the weekend, but admitted there were “pressures on the postal voting system due to the holiday season”.

It added: “We are continuing to provide advice and guidance to electoral services teams to support them with the postal voting process.”

Royal Mail insisted that any problems were not its fault.

“We have no backlog of postal votes,” the company said. “Where concerns have been raised, we have investigated and confirmed ballot packs are being delivered as soon as they arrive in our network.”

Voters who use a postal vote must send back their completed ballots to arrive by 10pm on Thursday, the same time that polls close for in-person voters. Anyone who has not received ballot papers is able to fill their postal vote out in person at a council’s offices before 5pm on Thursday.

The situation in Scotland had been made worse by delays in printing some ballot papers, and complicated by a high number of voters leaving for summer holidays after the school term ended last week, said Peter Stanyon, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators.

“They used one particular supplier,” he said, referring to the printer that had been producing material. “There was a slight delay in the print, by a few hours, and that knocked on.”

He added there had been some “documented” cases where postal votes had not yet arrived with people who applied for them.

“The latest information that we’ve got is that all postal votes are in the supply chain and were due to be delivered over the weekend,” he said.

Scottish councils including Edinburgh, Borders, Highlands and Fife ran emergency facilities over the weekend for people who needed to fill in postal votes in person and were about to leave on holiday.

Edinburgh City council had received more than 100,000 applications for postal votes in the current general election, a 41 per cent increase on applications in 2019.

In west London, some electors reported failing to receive their postal ballots by the weekend, more than two weeks after making initial requests.

Joe Powell, Labour candidate for Kensington and Bayswater, said he had directly heard reports of “a few cases” of postal ballots failing to arrive. Kensington and Chelsea council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Association of Electoral Administrators has said more than 10mn people are expected to ask for postal votes in the current general election, a 20 per cent increase from the 2019 general election.

Besides the problems in Scotland, Uttlesford District Council in Essex said that it sent out some postal votes late because of “human error”. The issue affects some voters in the North West Essex constituency currently held by Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary.

The council said on Monday that all voters should receive their ballot by Monday, and urged voters to send them back immediately to ensure they arrived by polling day on Thursday.

There have also been reports of delays to delivery of postal votes in the area covered by Teignbridge District Council, in Devon. The council did not immediately respond to a request to comment.


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