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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Threat to democracy

The Times reports on the words of Judge Richard Mawrey, QC yesterday when he said that postal voting on demand was “lethal to the democratic process”. Mr. Mawrey believes that the current system makes “wholesale electoral fraud both easy and profitable” and accused politicians of failing to act after past scandals. He urged sweeping reforms to electoral law dealing with corruption:

His comments came as he found a Conservative councillor guilty of vote rigging by using postal ballots in the names of hundreds of “ghost voters” fraudulently added to the electoral register. Eshaq Khan was stripped of his council seat in Slough, Berkshire, and banned from holding office for five years after being found guilty of corrupt practices.

The case highlighted how new checks designed to stamp out the misuse of postal ballots were by-passed by Khan’s team within a year of their introduction, enabling him to gain a marginal seat from Labour last year.

Mr Mawrey, in his judgment on the Slough case, concluded: “There is no reason to suppose that this is an isolated incident. Roll-stuffing [packing the electoral roll with fictitious voters] is childishly simple to commit and very difficult to detect. To ignore the probability that it is widespread, particularly in local elections, is a policy that even an ostrich would despise.”

The case is an embarrassment to David Cameron as the most serious case of vote rigging involving a Conservative candidate. But Mr Mawrey criticised all Britain’s main political parties for failing to introduce adequate checks after widespread electoral abuse involving postal ballots was discovered during local elections at Birmingham in 2004.

To be fair there have been individuals from all parties involved in these cases. There is a lot to be said for removing temptation. The Electoral Commission's solution of individual registration is certainly worth exploring as we have to strike a balance between helping people to vote and ensuring that the system is secure.

The one other lesson that I think that the Government do need to draw from this affair is that there are no easy solutions to increasing turnout. Giving people greater opportunities to vote is important but such an approach contains dangers for the electoral process itself.

If we are to encourage people to go to the ballot box in bigger numbers then it is up to politicians to motivate them by offering a real choice and by ensuring that we minimise wasted votes. The outcome of an election must reflect the way that people voted and should empower voters rather than disenfranchise them for another four years.
I couldn't agree more.

The postal vote system has always been susceptible to fraud, but the need to ensure that the sick, housebound etc. were enfranchised was rightly deemed to be important balance with the reasonable containment of postal vote fraud beacaue of the low numbes of postal votes.

The wider the postal vote franchise, the more likley there will be fraud. It's not hard is it.

David Walters
I applaud your impartial tone, Mr Black. I would find it hard to write a balanced piece about this without rambling passionately off on a tangent you so tantalisingly touched upon toward the end. STV STV STV!!!
The entire judgment in this case is available at www.simmons.slough.info


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