20 Mar 2010
March 20, 2010

HOW THE DEAD VOTE

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A lot of people got in touch after my last blogpost, about John’s death.  Thanks; it was sweet and moving. Isn’t social media a marvel?

Just to neutralise the karma, though, I thought I’d post on the lighter side of death.  So what I’m thinking is how important The Dead vote will be at the coming UK general election.  The big polling companies, the tv analysts, seem to have left out this group.  Are they right to do so, or might The Dead be the crucial swing voters we’re all missing?

The first hurdle The Dead (we? you’ll see why that qualifier is relevant in a moment) have to cross in their (our?) search for special electoral significance is one of scale.  There are many tiny minority groupings who, of themselves, have too little bearing on any result to open to meaningful analysis.  Polling companies and tv people have to red-line somewhere, after all.  So what’s the scale of the problem of The Dead?

Off the top of my head, somewhat over half a million people will die in the UK this year; the overwhelming majority of those will be adults. Around 3% of them will die during the 7-10 days between the sending out of postal ballot papers and the general election.  In 2005, 12.1% of electors cast their votes by post.  So, how many folk will cast their vote by post but die before the election?  Well, this year it’s assumed by most that the turnout in general will be up and so, as a proportion of the total vote, will be the postal vote.  Most folk, I’m told, who request postal votes cast them early, thus increasing the proportion of those who vote then die against those who die before using their postal vote.

In order to get specific on figures here, I’d have to ask officials who are kinda busy on other things.  Plus, I can’t be bothered; this is just a whimsical piece of nonsense, after all.  So if we say, for the sake of argument, that 15000 people die during the postal vote period and that, say, 20% had requested a postal vote, we’ve got around 3000 folk (ex-folk, actually).  I understand that postal voters are more likely to vote than n0n-postal voters, but it’s also true that the figures will be skewed by the possibly loose relationship between those who die and those who have applied for postal votes.  But, hey, why not just give me 50% of those postal voters will actually vote before they die?  It’s probably lower, is my instinct, but just give me it for the moment.

It looks like maybe 1500 people across the UK will vote then die.  That’s only 2 or 3 per constituency.  So even at the first hurdle, Scale, we’re beginning to see why Comres, Yougov, Peter Kellner et al have been giving The Dead vote short shrift.  Yet in 1997, Mark Oaten initially won Winchester by only two votes.  Gerry Malone, who’d chicken-ran from Aberdeen as I recall, managed to force a re-run but frankly it’s likely that such a marginal result will throw up lots of potential variables which may have malaffected the result more than The Dead vote  – so even then The Dead are unlikely to have much of a say in whether there’s a re-run.

I did ask a mate who was a council official once if your postal vote counts if you die before the election date.  He told me that ‘your vote dies with you’.  But how true is that?  Is there any kind of systematic process by which The Dead are weeded out during the election count?  No, of course not.  And I wouldn’t advocate it either.  It’d be a waste of money and The Dead are highly likely, as far as we can gauge, to have lost interest in the whole electoral process anyway.

So here’s my conclusion on The Dead Vote.  I’m going to call it ‘Eric’s Dead Vote Law’.  The Dead Vote counts.  But not enough to merit consideration as a discrete segment.  Ho ho.

A final point. Some of us will be part of The Dead Vote.  Although in my case, as I’ll be voting for myself and I’d be disqualified as a candidate if dead, then my vote will definitely not count. Politicians are disenfranchised in death as in life.