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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stealing votes?

A new report by the Electoral Commission has revealed that police were called in to investigate dozens of allegations of fraud at the last general election following a catalogue of alleged offences, ranging from postal-vote fraud to false leaflets and bogus voting.

According to the Independent on Sunday, Police sources have said that more than 80 allegations of criminal behaviour, including tampering with ballot papers, were received following the election, and that at least 25 of them resulted in formal complaints and police investigations:

The list of allegations included one in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke, the man who is tasked with ensuring that elections are conducted within the law.

In the months following the poll, the Conservative Party chairman, Baroness Warsi, claimed that fraud had deprived the Tories of at least three seats in the closest general election for almost 30 years.

"At least three seats where we lost, where we didn't gain the seat, [were] based on electoral fraud," she said. "I am saying there are seats at the last election in which those constituencies are concerned, quite rightly, that electoral fraud took place."

Lady Warsi has refused to name the constituencies, although one is believed to have been Halifax, where Labour held on by less than 1,500 votes in May. Tory MP Greg Hands later claimed that 763 postal votes issued in Halifax failed to match voter registration records. It subsequently emerged that two local Tories had been arrested over allegations of electoral fraud in the weeks before polling-day. West Yorkshire Police later dismissed the Conservatives' allegations of irregularities, following a "comprehensive" investigation.

Nottinghamshire Police chiefs confirmed that they had received 10 complaints, including one relating to Mr Clarke's Rushcliffe seat. Ashfield, the former constituency of Geoff Hoon, produced three complaints, and there were two in Bassetlaw, the seat of John Mann, a prominent campaigner for greater transparency in politics.

The complaints included allegations relating to leaflets, "false register", expenses and public order. More than half were made against the candidates themselves.

The paper says that the Metropolitan Police also launched a number of investigations, including one into allegations of false registration of voters' addresses in Tower Hamlets. They add that Greater Manchester Police received allegations of fraud in a number of areas, including Rochdale, North Manchester, Oldham and Bolton.

The increase in these sorts of claims must surely justify reform of some kind to improve the security of the ballot process. Whether photographic IDs are the right solution as suggested by Unlock Democracy I am not so sure, but some tightening up is needed and I would hope that the Electoral Commission will now work with the Government to bring forward proposals.

Update: The Electoral Commission have not been in touch as follows:

'I just wanted to let you know that, despite what might have been implied in the Independent on Sunday story about electoral fraud, the Electoral Commission has not yet published its report into allegations of fraud at last year's elections. I'd be very grateful if you could amend your blog post "Stealing Votes" to reflect this, so that people don't come to us for a report that is not yet available!

We are currently working on this report with ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers), and are planning to publish in the next few weeks.

The stats quoted in the media report did not come from a draft of our report, it looks as if the journalists contacted individual police forces to ask for the information - which is fine, of course, no problem with them doing that, but just wanted to clarify that they did not come from us.'

Surely the major problem with regards any vote fixing is via postal ballots and the authentication of these will always prove difficult.

Taking into account your Association of Liberal Democrat Councilors (ALDC) in its report og your win in Marl ward of Conwy council point out that there was a 75% postal vote wand how the local party members had had worked on this.Is this not a worry for the future?
I'm not accusing the Lib-Dems of any form of malpractice here but such a high Postal vote would be a lot easier to manipulate than people voting at ballot boxes.
If the numbers voting by post increase to this level how can they be monitored for irregularities?
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