Will party workers be less reluctant to “help” postal voters get their ballots in?
In an article in the Times just three weeks before polling day Cheadle was singled out as the prime example of a marginal constituency where there had been a big increase in postal votes over 2001. It noted on April 15th that In Cheadle, Manchester, where the Liberal Democrats have a majority of 33, the number of applications stands at 8,226, nearly five times the 1,695 cast in 2001.
At the time we speculated whether “this was partly the product of the â€œhiddenâ€ campaign that has been taking place over the past six months â€“ the huge direct marketing effort in the marginal seats.” In this select voters were bombarded by mail and phone calls by centralised Labour and Conservative operations and the â€œsellâ€ was confirmed by a postal vote application being returned to the partiesâ€™ national processing centres.
The Lib Dems did not have a national centre but had built up their postal vote numbers by work at a local level.
The problem for party organisers was that to convert those on the postal lists into real votes requires the final prong of the marketing operation â€“ a visit or some contact to the postal voterâ€™s home to make sure they have voted and to offer assistance if they havenâ€™t.
For the process of voting by post is quite cumbersome. You have to mark the ballot paper and then put it in one envelope. Then you have to fill in a form and get your signature witnessed by someone who has to provide their address and finally you have to put all the bits together and ensure that it is put in the mail.
For many on the postal list the problem of finding a witness could the critical. It is here where a normal follow-up by the party machine could be very helpful. In the post-Birmingham atmosphere of the May 5 General Election, however, there was a reluctance amongst all the party machines to get to involved in this process. The result was a low level of turnout amongst those on the list in seats throughout the country. The proportion for Cheadle has not been made available but we guess that the seat would have followed normal patterns.
- In the rarefied atmosphere of a Conservative â€“ Lib Dem by-election battle we would not expect the same fastidiousness by party workers. Those with postal votes are much more likely to be followed up and help, where asked for, will be provided.
Those 8,226 voters are almost certainly still on the postal list and the party machines know who they are. Whether and how they vote could determine whether the Lib Dems retain the seat.