It looks like an Observer scoop may have landed the paper and the LibDems in hot water over a breach in electoral law. It’s entirely common to see ‘leaks’ of “internal polling” during elections for obvious reasons, however an excerpt from the Sunday paper went one step further – referring to “internal polling based on postal votes”:
“According to internal polling based on postal votes, party insiders say the Lib Dem vote has risen from ◼️% to ◼️% in the past fortnight, while the Tory vote has fallen from ◼️% to ◼️%.”
The rules about publishing information to do with postal voting are very handily outlined on the blog of LibDem president and electoral law boffin Mark Pack:
“66A Prohibition on publication of exit polls.
- No person shall, in the case of an election to which this section applies, publish before the poll is closed—
- any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted, or
- any forecast as to the result of the election which is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information so given.
- This section applies to—
- any parliamentary election; and
- any local government election in England or Wales.
- If a person acts in contravention of subsection (1) above, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
- In this section—
- “forecast” includes estimate;
- “publish” means make available to the public at large, or any section of the public, in whatever form and by whatever means;
and any reference to the result of an election is a reference to the result of the election either as a whole or so far as any particular candidate or candidates at the election is or are concerned”
Given it’s reasonable to suggest any statement showing figures based on postal voting returns is in contravention of the above section, both the LibDems’ leak and the Observer look like they’ve breached the rules. To ensure compliance with electoral law, co-conspirators will note Guido has not published the data in the excerpt above…
UPDATE: The LibDems now claim that the data was, in fact, from a “canvas of postal voters” and that “Not a single postal ballot has yet been opened”. A clarification they didn’t ask the Observer to make…