Three months from today, the first votes in the general election will already have been cast.
So says the journalist Michael Crick, and he makes a persuasive case. For even though polling day is 7 May, the first postal votes are likely to have been sent out several weeks before then. Crick thinks it could start as early as the week beginning 13 April.
This is because the deadline for the submission of nomination papers by candidates wishing to stand in the election is Thursday 9 April. Once that date has passed, local councils can begin printing postal ballot papers. Crick reckons that if this begins the following Monday, the first postal ballots will be landing on people’s doormats as soon as Tuesday 14 April.
“Past experience shows that most postal voters return their ballots within 48 hours of receiving them,” Crick continues, which means that “by the end of that week it could be that two to three million people have already voted.”
What Crick doesn’t mention is that the deadline to apply for a postal vote isn’t until 21 April. So yes, some people may well be voting as early as 14 April, but many more will continue to do so throughout the rest of April. People can apply for a replacement for a lost postal vote from 30 April right up to 5pm on polling day, which is also the deadline for emergency proxy vote applications.
In short what we’ll see is a period of voting of around three weeks, culminating in polling day on 7 May. I’d agree with Crick when he says the whole process is something of a “return to what occurred in the 19th century, when elections took place over several weeks, though the different then was that different seats voted on different days.” In fact, the last time this happened in the UK was in 1945, when most constituencies voted on 5 July but some went to the polls on 12 and 19 July due to employees in certain industries and businesses taking their annual summer holiday (the “wakes weeks“).
In the meantime, the most important date of all is 20 April: the deadline for registering to vote in the election. This is the one that needs the most publicity, and something to which all parties ought to commit time and resources to promote – especially if one million votes really have “gone missing”.