The Council had before it the recommendation of the Executive in respect of Councillor Kirby’s notice of motion on the freedom to vote by post. The Executive had been advised that the matters raised by the Motion were the personal responsibility of the Returning Officer and that the Council was not able to determine or influence the process. The Executive had not been supportive of Councillor Kirby’s Motion in the form submitted but had agreed that the support for the actions taken by the Electoral Registration Officer should be noted. An amended form of wording had therefore been proposed, as follows:
“Freedom to vote by post
This Council believes that democracy is best secured by maximising electoral turnout and participation, as much as that democracy must start by more literally securing residents’ votes.
It is therefore with regret that this Council notes the proportion of people voting by post in the Borough did not rise between 2019 and 2021, despite this year’s elections being the first to be held since the arrival of Covid-19. Despite the understandable caution from residents around in-person events – and for many even medically-advised isolation – the proportion of local people voting by post in fact fell.
In light of these facts, this Council recognises its responsibility to better uphold and inspire democratic participation through challenging times.
This Council also recognises the importance and legal status of the fully independent Electoral Commission. Equally this Council notes the importance of our independent Electoral Registration Officer, responsible for upholding the Electoral Commission’s advice, and welcomes our new Chief Executive to this role.
This Council notes that Woking Borough is an outlier in asking residents already on the electoral register for photo-identification in order to support their application for a postal vote, contrary to official guidance and legal requirements as set out by the Electoral Commission.
Therefore, this Council resolves to:
1) Support the Electoral Registration Officer in reflecting the latest exact wording as recommended by the Electoral Commission on its own website, when describing the process of registering to vote by post, on all relevant communications whether in print, digital or in person.
2) Remove from general council communications all other suggestion of restriction, advice to follow legally unnecessary steps, or any other effective impediment created by the Council’s advice or processes, on the ability of residents to register for a postal vote.
3) Support the Electoral Registration Officer by proactively communicating the existing legal reality of postal registration requirements to residents, via all Council-controlled media channels and to issue a public statement to all local media on behalf of this Full Council, clarifying the exact contents of this motion.
4) Note the actions already taken by the Returning Officer in section 2 of her report to the Elections and Electoral Registration Panel dated 23 August 2021 in the matter of Absent Voter Registrations.
5) Continue to run elections with regard to the fundamental principles of elections open to all and free from fraud.”
The Council welcomed the revised Motion, noting that the Returning Officer had recently undertaken a review of the practices and procedures in place and had concluded that the request for electors to provide additional photo ID for applications to vote by post was no longer necessary.
That the Motion, as amended by the Executive, be supported.