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A letter to the chief

Graham Smith | 15:15 UK time, Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Kevin Lavery
Chief Executive
Cornwall Council
29th June 2010

Dear Kevin

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

Yours sincerely

Graham Smith


  • Comment number 1.

    Good letter, Mr Smith.

    But in parallel you should also be enquiring about the undue and perhaps illegal influence of second 'home' voters on General Election 2010 results. In particular in the Camborne & Redruth constituency where the victory margin was a mere 66 votes in a constituency with around 1,200 council tax discount second 'homes'. How many of those 'flipped' their vote from their place of primary residence to the Camborne & Redruth constituency in order to skew the result? How many voted illegally in more than one constituency? It is known that multiple house owners were receiving polling cards at all of their houses.

    This is how, under the current ridiculous and inadequate Electoral Commission regime of lack of control and enforcement and unfair Electoral Law, the full time residents of Cornwall are denied full democratic control of their own affairs by people who don't live in Cornwall - immorally and/or illegally - not only in local elections but also in General Elections.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can someone who is registered at both adresses (ie 'home' and Cornwall) vote in their home constituency in the general election and then vote by post in Cornwall in a by-election and so on? In other words can they continually 'flip' voting adresses like MPs flip homes for capital gains tax? Anyone know?

  • Comment number 3.


    1.It is illegal to vote more than once in any single election, whether local government or general.

    2.However, multiple house owners can vote, under the present rules, in local government elections wherever they own a house, whether residential or holiday use, and however many they own - as long as they are in different local government election areas. Local government elections are each defined as different elections even if they are happening on the same day.

    3.Yes, they can legally 'flip' their vote to a by-election where they own a second/third/fourth/fifth 'home' just as they can in any general election as that would be defined as a single election.

    Electoral Commission current unenforced and, even if they were enforced, still anti-democratic rules:

  • Comment number 4.

    The Duchy of Cornwall & Scilly General Election 2010 – The Kevin Lavery Challenge …continues:


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