Postal votes were last debated at the 2002 AGM when the Society discussed some core issues, including postal voting, that had arisen during the review of the Society's rules. Postal voting had been allowed until the late 60's/early 70's when some corrupt practices had been unearthed (postal votes were being filtered so as to give a result that the management favoured). At that point, the Society changed its rules to ban postal votes.
A draft rule book was published in 2001 in a consultation exercise, and members were invited to give feedback to the ideas contained within it. At the end of that process, there were three main areas of concern, of which postal voting was one. The 2002 AGM document set out the arguments as follows:
This subject provided more comment from the membership as a whole than any other. There were many calls for postal balloting in the process of the election of officers. Again, there are three options:
- One is to make no change to the present arrangements. There are some very powerful arguments for the status quo, mainly to do with the way in which the management accounts for the state of the Railway. The greatest sanction is to turn up at AGM and ask awkward questions in public. If a system of voting were introduced which reduced the number of members at an important meeting which complies with the rules, democratic control of the Railway would suffer.
- A second option is to move to a system of full availability of a postal vote. Members are disenfranchised if they cannot undertake an arduous journey to an evening meeting, which makes a very long day or an overnight stay inevitable.
- The third option, preferred by the Committee, is to move to a system of partial postal voting. In reality most members live within 35 miles of any likely venue of an AGM. The committee feels that members disadvantaged by excessive distance should have some influence by being able to apply for a postal election vote. Most attendees travel to the AGM, within an hour, by car however, and rail attendees are able to reach Haywards Heath from most local stations in the immediate area, with relative ease There are some good arguments that a postal system would place considerable administrative burdens on part-time membership staff, apart from the potential cost. The committee sees this as a reasonable compromise.
The Society was invited to support Motion 3: "That the BRPS in Annual General Meeting is resolved to move to an election system that is partially postal."
The minutes of that meeting record the discussion, thus:
"13 Motion 3 (Election Arrangements)
Mr Pearce said that the subject of postal voting had created more correspondence than anything else. Those members advocating postal votes tended to live a long way away as they felt disenfranchised. Others argued that postal votes were undemocratic because votes were cast before all the arguments had been heard and they acted as a disincentive to attend the general meeting and hold the top table to account. Postal Voting also carried the risk that the AGM would not be quorate. Accordingly, the Trustees felt that a system of partial postal voting was preferable. Anyone living more than 35 miles away, in effect outside the TN, RH, BN and CR postcode areas, would be eligible for a postal vote. The Motion was seconded by Robert Prescott.
Mr Resch said we needed to think carefully about the mechanism we use to implement this proposal. When postal voting was allowed in the past, there was a perception that votes were "lost" if they did not accord with management views. We needed an independent count. Mr Roberts considered that 35 miles was too close. He travelled 80 miles to work on the railway and attend the AGM, Mr Darby felt that we needed safeguards to prevent some-one from voting by post and attending the meeting and voting a second time. Mr Hillman said he was against postal voting as it was important for the members to come together for one evening during the year. The AGM was not just about voting. Mr Pickup said that any concern about the security of votes could be overcome by using the services of the Electoral Reform Society. Responding to the debate, Mr Pearce said that the Membership Secretary's computer system would be used to determine who was eligible for postal votes and whether or not a postal voting form had been sent to them. Reiterating his initial argument, he said that we could either have full, partial or no postal voting and the Trustees believed this was a good compromise.
On a vote the motion was lost with 25 votes For, 125 Against and 6 Abstentions."
The new draft rules were sent to members with the Notice of the 2003 Extraordinary General Meeting which had been called to adopt the new rules. The Notice also invited members to submit amendments to the proposed rules and the opportunity was there to float the postal voting issue again, but nobody did so. The rules for EGM's are different in that proxy votes are allowed.
It is open to any member to propose an amendment to the rules, provided this is submitted in accordance with the rules and received by the General Secretary by the date specified in the AGM Notice. However, any proposal to allow postal voting ought to consider, pari passu, whether the quorum requirement ought to be relaxed, otherwise there is the risk - and consequent wasted costs - that the AGM might not get enough members attending for it to proceed.
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