Here’s a quick look at postal voting in the recent General Election in Cambridge. Once upon a time, you had to give a reason for asking for a postal vote, such as being away on polling day, or having a disability that made it hard to get to the polling station. However, in 2001 the law was changed to introduce postal voting on demand – any voter could have a postal vote simply by asking for one, without giving a reason. It was hoped that this would increase voter turnout at elections. It also led to concerns about fraudulent voting, but the system is currently still in place.
A significant feature of postal voting is that postal voters typically have a greater chance of actually casting a ballot than voters who go to the polling station in person. In the recent General Election in Cambridge, the overall turnout was 62.3%, but amongst postal voters it was significantly higher, at 82.4%. For this reason, political parties are keen to get their supporters to register for postal votes, to increase the chance that they will actually get round to putting their X on the ballot paper.
So how many postal voters are there in Cambridge? Here’s the graph:
This shows the number of people registered to vote in person and by post for each of the 13 wards in the Cambridge Parliamentary constituency, at the General Election. As you can see the size of the wards varies quite a bit; there are 5,666 voters in King’s Hedges but 7,693 in Market. However the figures are distorted a bit by changes to voter registration this year, which mean that many former students who have now left Cambridge are still on the register. This boosts the numbers in the student wards, principally Castle, Market and Newnham. Trumpington, on the other hand, just has a lot of voters, partly because it’s one of the areas where a lot of new development is going on.
Here is the graph again, this time showing the percentage of voters in each ward registered to vote by post:
The student wards have relatively fewer postal voters, whereas the wards with more settled, and perhaps more elderly, populations such as Cherry Hinton and West Chesterton tend to have more. But overall just 14% of Cambridge voters are registered for a postal vote – most people still have to get themselves to their local polling station on election day in order to participate in the democratic process.