Thursday, May 22, 2008

Campaigning in Residential Homes

This post raises a very difficult and sensitive issue, and I raise it only in the form of a question, rather than an opinion about what we might do. But its an issue that's been troubling me since an election about a few years ago. But today, I've received an approach from a former constituent about the issue, which I've advised warrants a letter to the Returning Officer. I've also said that I'd like to join the meeting. The approach to me follows rumours and much local concern that all the residents in a particular residential home had all completed postal votes in favour of the same candidate, and this was being widely discussed on the street several days before the election. The implications of what's being said are fairly clear.

When I first stood in a national election in 1997, I visited several residential homes and enjoyed good discussions with potential voters. It was not much different from campaigning in a 'sheltered' complex. But I spend quite a lot of time in residential homes now, and find the environment very different. Many are more as I used to think of nursing homes, where people are much more frail, and where it just didn't seem right to campaign. In fact, I've never campaigned in a nursing home. And I've extended this personal policy to residential homes, where today, I don't find many residents at all engaged with the electoral process.

The implication behind the suggestion made to me today is that someone is improperly 'helping' all the residents in a residential home to fill in their postal vote forms in support of a favoured candidate. Now I've no idea if this is true, but I do know that it is widely rumoured, and is undermining confidence in the electoral process. It needs to be thought about seriously. I accept that it may not be practically possible to entirely remove the possibility for unscrupulousness behaviour, but I do think its worth discussing it with the Returning Officer.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is disgusting and must be followed up. Though you could argue that Lembit Grope-it will need all the help he can get come the General Election.......

Alan in Dyfed said...

You are not the first person to hear of these 'dodgy' practices.
We have heard that it goes on but don't know how extensively.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - This is nothing whatsoever to do with the Liberal Democrats. I would fully expect Lembit Opik to take the same view as I do on this.

alan - I don't know whether it goes on either, but having heard that it is happening, I feel obliged to follow it up

Anonymous said...

Glyn you have to be very naive to think that this sort of thing doesn't happen regularly in Wales, one party dominance in any country throws up the opportunities to bend the rules.

There are other MP's and AM's who visit care homes to 'help' residents vote, they also get party workers to add opposition votes to Labour bundles at counts to decrease opposition majorities so they appear to do worse than they actually do, leading to less effort by the opposition in those seats next time round.

There is also a great deal of intimation of candidates and supporters on the campaign trail, I know of one instance where the windows of an elderly couple in their 80's were put in just for putting an Independents poster in their window in a Labour area, we reported it to the police but they didn't have enough evidence to press charges.

The problem is that we know it goes on some of us have seen it with out own eyes, but you can't prove it because of people's connections, is it worth blowing the whistle when you may lose your job, you home and cause your family grief and then get 'blacklisted' most people can't afford to do that, Wales is a very small place, so many complaints are not followed up, charges are dropped and people just give up in the end and stop fighting.

I hope you have more luck in exposing some of these practices than others have in the past.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

There should be a name for this alleged voting [mal]practice, Mendelian Voting (or Polling) in honour of that famous near-perfect 9:3:3:1 ratio. Or maybe Arthur C. Clark for his perfect ratio of 1:4:9 for that lunar ‘blackbox’. Clark’s ratio didn’t come from polling data, so I guess I’m being unfair to the author of “Childhood’s End”.

Anonymous said...

i understand that in some residential homes - in the valleys - its a case of the old "ulster proverb"
vote early and vote often"

Glyn Davies said...

anon - I'm not naive, but its a matter of scale. The rumoured example that has disturbed me, was mor eextreme that other examples I've known. You are probably right to warn me that these things are difficult to prove, but what I'm interested in is ensuring that the Presiding Officer is aware of what is being said. I have been advised to make contact with Ruth Marks, the Older People's Commissioner and the Electoral Commission.

Anonymous said...

glyn you are so right to get involved with this . its a disgrace that its not become amain issue for the regulaters. allpower to your elbow on it

Anonymous said...

glyn, apologies if I caused offence about the naive remark, your post and answer actually cheered me, im glad that someone in public life is willing to raise these difficult issues with the authorities and I wish you every luck.

Glyn Davies said...

anons - It is not possible to cause me offence on my blog! I notice that I incorrectly referred to the Returning Officer as the Presiding Officer on my last response to comments.

The reason this is a difficult issue to address is that no-one suggests that people with dementia should not be allowed a vote. I also realise that anyone caring for a person with dementia is probably in a position to influence a postal vote. This may be morally dubious, but is acceptable in my opinion. Where it becomes more of a concern is where a large number of people, who are not engaged with the outside world, (which is now the position in some residential homes) should all be influenced to vote the same way. It may not be possible to close off this oppoprtunity for abuse, but I do think its an issue that should be discussed openly. Since I posted on this, I have had several interesting responses by telephone and email. There is more to this than I realised.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

It's also dubious if the residents all voted for the same candidate - I doubt this happened, but if it did, the odds that it happened by chance would be very small indeed, bit like throwing a normal coin tails-up 20 consecutive times - just doesn't happen very often. What are the odds of doing this? To two significant figures: 0.00000095 or in percentage terms: 0.000095%; to one significant figure or 6 decimal places: 0.000001. In reality there will be more than two candidates standing and one would expect one candidate to get more votes than another otherwise there would be no winners or losers. Can the postal votes be matched to individuals in the same residential home? I doubt it. Even if the stats were discovered, they might be rendered next to useless if a careful 'helper' made sure that there were some votes spread out among the other candidates with just one or two for the main challenger-candidate. Stating the obvious, but the issue is rendered largely moot if there is a wide margin of votes between the winner and closest losing candidate.