Are Postal Votes Sexist?

Because of my former involvement in party politics I have attended a number of election counts, for all levels of election Community, County, Assembly, Westminster and Euro, but until last week I have never attended a preliminary postal vote count.

Of the 300 odd votes cast in the Glan Conwy Community Council election 68 were postal votes. Postal votes are accompanied by a signed declaration by the voter which "proves" that the votes had been validly cast. The declarations are scanned by a computer and the computer highlights those that don't "match" the details on the postal vote application.

The computer rejected a dozen or so votes (a fairly high percentage – about 1 in 5,). My opponent, the returning officer and I then had to visually verify the rejected statements. Most were caused by a failure of the scanning apparatus to distinguish between 9s 6s and 0 in the date of birth section of the declaration, all overturned. Some were cases where a voter had given a sample signature as John Jones but signed the declaration as J Jones, but because the Jones was undoubtedly visually the same, all three of us accepted the signatures as genuine.

Two postal votes were rejected, I thought that both were genuine but the returning officer and the other candidate disagreed with me. One was from a very old voter, I thought that the signature showed deterioration in handwriting fluidity due to age, the others thought that it was another person's signature; the second was from a female voter who was recently married. She had given her sample signature in her maiden name when she applied for a postal vote, but signed in her married name whilst casting this vote.

OK – it was only one vote and it didn't affect the outcome of the election, so in a sense it didn't matter, but it was still a case of a woman being disenfranchised for being a woman and it formed 1/300th of the vote, in some close call constituencies during the last Westminster election one in three hundred votes might have been decisive.

As a bloke I can get divorced tomorrow* and re-marry on Saturday and use the same signature on my postal vote, but my ex-wife reverting to her maiden name and my new wife adopting my name by marriage will both have their votes discounted! That's not fair – is it?

* Note to Mrs MOF - point used as an example not as an intention – honest!


  1. I think this is partly a symptom of the wider sexist assumption within society that a Woman should change her name once she gets married. Men don;t have to change their names so why should women?

    I believe it is a hangover from the days when a woman was deemed to be almost the property first of her father then of her husband.

    It is a trend that seemed to be dying out in the 1980's and 90's as more and more women were keeping thier original surnames or couples were adopting 'double barrels' meaning that both parties changed their names. And of course many couple chose not to marry at all.

    Over the last few years the trend seems to be reversing, I've seen quite a few people get married over the last few years, and the women - successful career women who would probably be regarded as strong feminists in other regards- are taking their husbands names as a matter of course.

    Maybe this reflects a rising tide of social conservatism.

  2. The worrying thing about this is that we are now getting to types of voters.
    Those who opt for a postal vote who will now tend to vote at every election who are not affected by the weather and may well have voted before they have seen what all the candidates have to offer.

    Those who vote at poling stations who may be discouraged by the weather or other events. But who may have changed their voting intentions in the days before the election.

    Postal votes should be for those who can't make it to a Poling station not because they can't be bothered to go.
    Do we want to be elected by the lazy?

  3. I agree with Welsh Agenda that it is the custom of name change on marriage itself that is sexist, not postal voting itself. But my main problem is not that it is ideologically unsound. It is the confusion and inconvenience tha it causes. I was one of the non-marital babies parted from their mothers in the sixties, the boom days of adoption. On my originl birth certificate I had my mother's surname. The father's name was blank. As my mother had married and only had one forename it made it incrdibly difficult to trace her. Luckily she came from a tiny insular village. The landlord still knew her. The barmaid found her sister's address in the phonebook. If she had lived in bedsit land in an anonymous inner city, I don't think I'd ever have found her.

    The trouble is that most people think it is a legal requirement for a woman to change her name on marriage. When I informed a public organisation that I would shortly be marrying but would not be changing my name, the silly girl at the desk told me that this would not be permitted. So I did no tell anyone else.

    The fact is, though, that women have only themselves to blame. It's a custom they inflict on themselves needlessly. We know that Scotswomen didn't adopt this custom until the nineteenth century. Rabbie Burns' wife always remained Jean Armour. It's neve made an impact in the Spanish speaking countries or in most Muslim areas. Even the wives of the evil tyrannical bluebeard, Henry viii were known as Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour et al. It was never Jane Tudor so it may not have been a widespread custom even in England at that time.

    Of course in Wales it must be of recent origin as not long ago we had no surnames but only patronymics such eg Dafydd ap Gwilym or Gwenllian ferch Rhys. Of course if people want to follow a silly custom we can't stop them. Forcing fairness down people's throats can make them paranoid as I found with dear little Jac. We can just make the information available to them that they needn't. If the sexist custom does wither, I would hope that children would hve the same surname as their same sex parent as a constant proliferation of double-barrel names over the years would be too unweildly for use.

    It certainly wouldn't be an improvement if men adopted their wives' names as happened with a former German Anglican priest in Abergavenny. It was all the more surprising as I hear his views on how women and children should be treated, as expounded in his sermons, were a disgrace, and if implemented, could only lead to domestic abuse.The fact is that, whatever your sex, marriage does not sem to be a sufficiently important rite of passage to require a change of name, not these days when people have often been cohabiting for years anyway.

    Marianne Hancock, Abergavenny