A letter sent out by the Chairman of the Isle of Wight Conservative Association, Cllr Ian Ward, in connection with the 2017 council election has drawn strong criticism from the public and opposition leaders.
The letter – sent to those registered for postal votes on the Isle of Wight – encourages voters who have two homes to vote both on the Island and mainland – without stating the limited conditions that would apply.
The letter reads (see below in full):
If you have a home on the mainland you are entitled to a vote in both your mainland local election as well as here on the Island
Rules for second home owners
The Electoral Commission rules state that if you own two homes you can vote in both local areas, but only if you spend an equal amount of time in them, as agreed by the local Electoral Registration Officer.
Whether or not you reside at an address is not defined in law. Residence is understood to mean a “considerable degree of permanence”.
This means a person with two homes who spends the same amount of time in each can legally register at both addresses.
It is unlikely that merely owning a second home that is used for recreation would be enough to qualify you to register to vote in that area. Simply paying council tax on a second home would also not be enough.
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission told OnTheWight this morning,
“It is for the local Electoral Registration Officer to decide in the light of the relevant circumstances, whether a person may be said to be resident at a particular address.
“It is legal to vote in elections for two different local councils.”
As to whether Ian Ward has broken any rules – as has been suggested – we’re still awaiting clarification from the Electoral Commission.
We’ve written to Cllr Ward about this, but haven’t received answer to the four questions we asked (we did get an email, but it was blank). He has been able to find time to Tweet out, “Its Quiz Time Again Come along and bring your team Our Quiz is at the normal time of 8pm Roger will be our Quiz… ” in the meantime.
Lowthion: “Vague and inaccurate interpretation of electoral law”
According to Leader of the Isle of Wight Green party, Vix Lowthion, in 2010 4.75% of Island homes were second homes.
She told OnTheWight, this morning,
“The electoral commission guidelines are clear. You can only register to vote in your local area if you reside at an address in that area; specifically a ‘considerable degree of permanence’ or spending ‘the same amount of time’ at both addresses.
“As I walk the streets of towns and villages in support of excellent Green candidates, I see plenty of empty second homes where I challenge the Island Conservatives to prove the owners are ‘permanent’ residents.
“This letter smacks of desperation and is another example of the Conservative Party seemingly ignoring electoral guidelines in order to win elections.
“I demand that Ian Ward and the Island Conservatives publicly clarify their position, and make a statement to correct their vague and inaccurate interpretation of electoral law.”
Blackmore: “Cynical move … discredits politics”
Stewart Blackmore, Vice Chair of the Isle of Wight Labour Party told OnTheWight,
“Island Labour decries this cynical move which further discredits politics. The Tory Party has shown itself to be unprincipled on the Island, even to the extent of adopting a former Ukip candidate to stand under the Tory banner.
“This is an outrageous tactic. The only people who should vote for candidates in the Isle of Wight council elections are those who live on the Island. The idea that people who live on the mainland, but who are wealthy enough to own a second home on the Island, should be encouraged to vote for candidates who will make decisions for those who do live here, is disgraceful. The fact that the Conservatives have seen fit to urge them to do so is beneath contempt.
“This is a throwback to the days when the votes of the wealthy few outweighed the votes of ordinary people. It perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that the Tory Party should seek to corrupt the democratic process. But it is still shocking to see the Tories openly taking advantage of legal loopholes to try to gerrymander the election, by appealing to wealthy people from outside the Island to use an undemocratic vote.
“Island Labour demand that the Tories immediately apologise for this insult to Islanders, and withdraw their invitation to wealthy non-Islanders to interfere in our election.
“Island Labour are quite clear: the ONLY people who should be voting for Isle of Wight councillors are people who actually live on the Isle of Wight.”