A letter to the chief
29th June 2010
Many thanks for your letter of 16th June, concerning my Freedom of Information application for details about the Falmouth Town Council Penwerris ward by-election held on 27th May.
Naturally I'm disappointed that you feel disinclined to provide the information I'm asking for. I thought it might be helpful if I now briefly set out the reasons why I think the public interest would be well served by the limited amount of research required to answer my question.
Because the turn-out in this by-election was small (16%) the total number of votes cast was only 795. Of these, approximately 40%, or just over 300 votes, were cast by post. And because the winning margin in the election was only 20 votes, it would have required only 6% (or one in 15) of these postal votes to have been cast from second home addresses to have significantly influenced the result.
The point behind the question is that modern technology now allows for such storage and retrieval of data that well funded, professionally-organised political parties can potentially build huge "storage tanks" of postal votes, which they can later harvest at will. This is particularly true of low-turnout local elections where the winning margin is narrow. I wonder if local authority election officials have the resources they need to keep up with the increasing power of the political parties?
My question was simply to ask what percentage of the 318 postal votes were cast from addresses on the council tax discount register. Is it really going to put such a strain on resources to answer this question? Could you perhaps let me know how much it would cost to undertake the research?
If the answer to my original question turns out to be less than 6% then my concerns may have been groundless. But if the answer turns out to be more than 6% then there is perhaps a case for increasing resources in the Electoral Services department in order to better promote democracy in Cornwall.
I accept that even if second home voters did wield such influence, no electoral laws were necessarily broken. I have no interest in trying to find out whether second home voters supported any particular candidate.
I do hope you feel able to reconsider.
With best wishes