'POSTAL BALLOTS'

Financial Times – 11 June 1984

May I add a postscript to the important letter (May 30) from the Deputy Director of Aims of Industry, who explained how slim is the evidence for the Government's claim that workplace ballots produce higher turnouts in key union elections than do tamper-proof postal ballots?

How likely is it that trade union members who cannot be troubled merely to fill-in and post a ballot paper sent (complete with stamped addressed envelope) to their homes, are nevertheless going to exert themselves to seek out ballot boxes in their factories in order to cast their vote?

One of the main objections to workplace ballots is the ease with which "personation" can occur: this involves numerous ballot papers being cast by people other than those to whom they were supposed to be issued. In the House of Lords on May 15, Baroness Cox quoted the case of the National Association of Local Government Officers member who boasted "of having cast 129 votes [in that union's 1983 workplace ballot]; his main stratagem was going round the wastepaper baskets and filling in discarded ballot papers".

Even if, occasionally, a workplace ballot might produce a higher turnout than a postal ballot, this is beside the point. Soviet elections invariably record more votes cast than Western ones. The question is, which system gives the more representative result?

The Government simply cannot justifiably rely on (highly questionable) claims about turnout as an excuse for not accepting the overwhelming need to amend the Trade Union Bill to require mandatory postal ballots for union elections. A representative low turnout is infinitely preferable to an unrepresentative high turnout resulting from the very malpractices which the introduction of postal ballots would be guaranteed to stamp out.

Dr JULIAN LEWIS
London SW1