Call for end to free postage for election candidates

 

AN INTERNAL report commissioned by the Government on reducing the cost of general elections suggests abolishing free postage for election candidates.

It is one of a number of cost-saving measures outlined in the report that would save the taxpayer in the region of between €11 million and €12 million.

A spokesman for Minister for the Environment John Gormley said the proposals were under “active consideration” and no decision has been made yet.

Each candidate or political party is entitled by law to send a single piece of election literature to each voter free of charge.

However, some politicians have expressed concern over the cost and inefficiency of the free post privilege. In some cases a household with several adults can receive well over a dozen individuals’ pieces of correspondence in the post during a campaign.

In the 2007 general election, the cost to the State was €10.8 million. In the most recent European and local elections, the cost rose to €11.5 million. An Post is compensated by the exchequer for the postage costs.

Last year, on foot of concern over the high cost of election postage, officials examined potential electoral cost savings.

Unpublished briefing material released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that one of the options includes abolishing free post by repealing the relevant legislation (section 57 of the Electoral Act, 1992). This could only be done if the move was supported by the Government.

Other options examined by the group include:

Sending a single booklet to each household containing information on all candidates, instead of individual election literature.

Delivering election literature to each household in a constituency rather than each voter, as is the case at present, under a “voluntary code of practice” among candidates and political parties.

Co-ordinating the delivery of election literature so it all arrives on the same day, to cut down on separate deliveries.

The interdepartmental group that drew up the report was established following a suggestion by Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming, a member of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, who first proposed that a single booklet could be published with all candidates’ details.

Mr Fleming said reforming this area could provide significant savings at a time when the public finances are under unprecedented pressure. “Most homes get four or five separate pieces of literature in the post. And if there are five people of voting age, that could be 20 pieces of correspondence.

“It’s very doable to change the system. If we published a single booklet, the savings would be phenomenal and it would be a better service to the public,” he said.

The Referendum Commission distributed a booklet on the Lisbon Treaty to every home in the country in 2009, along with a national advertising campaign, at a total cost of just over €3 million.

However, the briefing material states that it would be difficult to print and arrange a national delivery of such a booklet within the typical three-week election campaign.

Officials also say plans to deliver correspondence to households, rather than individual voters, would be problematic. Up to 40 per cent of households do not have a unique address – such as a house number – which would make it difficult to ensure each household received the correct literature.