Gordon’s snap poll could cause postal vote chaos

by Stephen Tall on September 30, 2007

That’s the warning from John Turner, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, as reported in today’s Scotsman:

Turner said: “If there is an autumn election there will be a significant number of administrative problems. I’m fearful of the possibility of things going wrong administratively because of the pressures involved.”

Concerns centre on the problematic postal voting system, which continues to place election officers under a huge burden. The AEA has called on the Government to change the law to extend the time limit between the dissolution of parliament and an election by at least another five working days to 22 days. However, if he goes ahead with an early election, Brown looks set to restrict the time limit to the current 17 days.

Turner said: “The small number of specialist, commercial printers who produce the ballot packs will have significant problems in dealing with the additional volumes within the limited time available.”

The AEA is also warning that some people will be unable to vote or to receive a postal vote because the new electoral roll is not published until December 1. … Difficulties over postal votes, which have been championed by ministers as a way of increasing turnout, could be exacerbated by two UK-wide 48-hour postal strikes on October 4-6 and October 8-10.

The UK-wide AEA, which represents returning officers and other public servants responsible for organising elections, is seeking an urgent meeting with the UK Justice Department.

Turner said: “One minute after the polls closed in May we told the Government about our grave concerns. And at the end of last week, I sent a note to the Ministry of Justice saying that those difficulties still exist and asking how we could overcome them. The message needs to get out that there’s the possibility of problems that could affect the conduct of the election.”

So, there are two questions facing Gordon Brown this weekend:

(i) does he want to call an election which risks his premiership after 10 years of waiting; and

(ii) does he want to go down in history as the man perhaps responsible for one of the most administratively chaotic general elections in history, disenfranchising thousands, and quite possibly prompting the lowest post-war turnout?

Just how lucky does Gordon feel?