Timetable issues were raised in 2021

Royal Mail defends service as postal votes top ten million

Deadline for returning postal votes is 3 July

Royal Mail has “no backlog” of postal votes in its network and would welcome a review into future election timetables – with the number of people opting for a postal vote rocketing to more than 10m.

Although Royal Mail has found itself the target of unwelcome headlines in the mainstream media, with yesterday’s Daily Telegraph front page leading with the headline ‘Royal Mail blamed for postal vote chaos’, the postal operator asserted that it was delivering ballot packs as soon as they arrived in its network.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said:We have no backlog of postal votes and, whilst we are not complacent, we remain confident that postal votes handed to us on time will be delivered prior to polling day.

“Where specific concerns have been raised, we have investigated and confirmed ballot packs are being delivered as soon as they arrive in our network.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the General Election six weeks ago, on 22 May.

The increasing number of people choosing to use postal votes, combined with the election date clashing with holidays – particular in Scotland where schools have already broken up and the holiday season is underway – have put pressure on local councils and printers alike.

Royal Mail is effectively reliant on a supply chain involving hundreds of local authorities and their specialist print partners who are responsible for the production of ballot papers before they are handed to Royal Mail for delivery.

Issues flagged in 2021

The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) has called for the postal vote system to be reviewed and improved, and back in 2021 had already highlighted that earlier deadlines were needed for absent voting applications.

In October 2021 print suppliers including Adare SEC, Civica Election Services, FDM, Latcham, MPS Marketing Services, Pakflatt, SCI Print and Print.UK.com also signed an open letter warning Kemi Badenoch, then minister of state at the Department for Levelling UP, Housing and Communities, about potential issues, in particular with a snap general election if the election timetable was reduced.

A week ago the AEA also flagged the huge increase in postal voters: “More than 1.3m postal vote applications were made between 22 May and 19 June – more than were issued in total for the 1997 General Election,” it warned.

“We anticipate postal vote numbers will top 10m at this election, a 20% increase from the 2019 General Election.”

The AEA said that while election teams were “doing their very best to run this snap election”, the short timetable combined with print and delivery suppliers working at capacity meant demand was overloading the system.

“Printing postal votes is a complicated process. Personalised postal vote statements must be matched with the correct ballot paper, personalised envelopes and instruction sheets.

“Election teams also need to carry out security checks adding to the time needed to prepare and send ballot papers out.”

The AEA said that closing applications for postal votes 16 working days before a poll, rather than the current 11, would increase capacity to process, print and post out ballot packs – and crucially give voters more time to post them back.

The Royal Mail spokesperson also flagged the timetable issue and said: “We would welcome a review into the timetable for future elections with all stakeholders to ensure that the system for printing and administering postal votes before they are handed to Royal Mail works as smoothly as possible.”

Royal Mail said that in a small number of cases some ballot packs were still arriving at its network during last weekend.

Electoral Commission advice for voters

An Electoral Commission spokesperson told Printweek the “vast majority” of postal votes have been delivered, and it was not aware of any outstanding large-scale issues.

“If there are individual cases where a voter has not yet received their postal ballot pack, they should request a replacement from their local authority. Voters can post their postal ballot until Wednesday [3 July], and we know the Royal Mail has plans in place to ensure all postal votes get delivered in time to be counted.

“Voters also have the option to hand it in on polling day, or also ask someone to hand their ballot pack in on their behalf. Voters can hand in a maximum of five postal ballots in addition to their own, and will be required to complete a form at the polling station when doing so.”  

Previous General Election postal votes numbers

  • 2019  8.2m
  • 2017  8.4m
  • 2015  7.6m
  • 2010  6.9m
  • 2005  5.4m
  • 2001  1.76m
  • 1997  937k

Source: AEA