Postal Voting

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Government's postal vote proposals fall well short of the mark

The number of investigations into postal vote fraud in the UK has reached 25 in 19 constituencies. In the city of Bradford alone, 252 allegations of fraud have been made.

In response, the Government has outlined legislation to tighten security. The measures include:

  • A new offence of fraudulently applying for a postal vote, which mean up to five years in jail - this is welcome but useless without the resources and means for electoral officers and police to investigate fraud.
  • Preventing candidates and party officials from handling postal vote applications - good. This is common sense and it is staggering that this was legal before the election.
  • Increasing the time election administrators have to check postal voting applications by extending the deadline from six to 11 days - given how much is on their plate in the run-up to the election, this extension is not enough.
  • Making it harder to forge ballot papers by using barcodes - with scores of computer programs out there that can produce barcodes and cheap high-quality printing, this is a cosmetic change at best.
  • Using signatures and dates of birth as additional verifiers - as signatures can be faked (and there is no existing register of them), and one's date of birth is rarely a secret, neither of these measures will guarantee fraud will be cut. This is especially pertinent as (see below) registration will still be done at the household level.
The biggest failure of the proposed bill is to not adopt a system of individual registration, and to keep the registration at the household level. This system means that one person in the household will be the one in charge of all the voting applications in that house; when combined with a postal vote it means that both the votes, and the assertion that they are valid, are out of any supervision by the authorities. If both these means of validation are in the hands of one person, it leads to the potential for abuse, either by overstating the number of people in the household, or by taking the vote away from other members.

The Consitutional Affairs secretary, Lord Falconer, has defended keeping the household register, saying: "If we had separate registration forms for everybody would that reduce the number who register?". He cited Northern Ireland as an example where it has. But he misses the point completely - it doesn't matter if the number of registered people falls. What matters is whether the number of people who are eligible for a vote falls. Given the current registers are flawed and almost certainly over-state the number of people eligible, a fall is to be expected.

The question the Government needs to be asking is "does this system deny a secret, secure vote from people who are eligible for it?". Household registration, as outlined above, can. However, individual registration does not deny the vote to anyone who actually has the right to it. And by removing fraudulent votes, it will improve the quality of the votes that eligible citizens cast. Making applications for the vote more secure does not threaten to disenfranchise people - it does the precise opposite.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Vigilance may have helped...or not

Raised vigilance about postal vote fraud may have prevented potential fraud from taking place. A third of the 60,000 postal ballots sent out in Birmingham were not returned, however this is no guarantee that all vote fraud was stopped.

Elsewhere in the country, arrests have been made in Burnley, and there are investigations ongoing in Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, West Mercia, Greater Manchester and St Albans, as well as tampered ballots in Stoke-on-Trent.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Disenfranchised

While John Humphrys' apparent "stolen vote" turns out to be his own fault, other people who do not have the luxury of a show on the BBC were genuinely disenfranchised on Thursday.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Postal vote problems - a summary

It's election day today; if you can vote, please do.

Meanwhile, here's a summary of problems with the postal vote in the elections being held today, to keep in mind in case there are any contentious or surprising results tonight. I'll let you know of any more. Enjoy election day!

Allegations of fraud

  • In Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath, a Labour candidate has had postal votes for neighbours and friends redirected to his house. Earlier this year three Labour councillors from Birmingham were deemed to have taken part in widespread vote fraud in local elections last year, running 'vote factories'. The QC presiding, Richard Mawrey, said the cale of the fraud would 'would disgrace a banana republic'. One man has since had the ruling reversed. In addition, an election official in Birmingham is suspended after 1000 postal votes from last year's elections were found unopened in a council storage room. #
  • In Bradford, two men have been arrested in connection with suspected postal vote fraud for today's general election. #
  • A separate case in Bradford is looking at two Conservative councillors who have registered a large number of people at their own house. #
  • There are also police investigations in Leicester East, Leicester South, Bethnal Green & Bow, High Wycombe, Luton, Southampton and Somerset & Frome. #
  • A further police investigation is taking place in Dungannon. #

Duplicate ballot papers

  • 363 voters in Basingstoke have been sent duplicate papers. #
  • 2,500 duplicates have been sent to voters in Oldham West & Royston. #

Misdirected or lost ballot papers

  • In Macclesfield the delivery of 2,400 ballots has been delayed. #
  • 300 papers meant for Windsor have instead been sent to Skegness. #
  • Hundreds of ballot papers have been reported late in Hereford. #
  • 10 people in Aberdeen have reported their postal votes have not come through. #

Misprinted ballot papers

  • 16,000 ballots in Wyre, Lancashire, for the council elections have been sent out with numbers that do not match the declaration form, making them invalid if sent in. #
  • 400 papers in Colchester also do not have properly matching numbers. #
  • 1100 papers in Suffolk for the county council elections have been misprinted, asking for the wrong number of candidates to be voted for. #
  • 200 papers in Edinburgh have had mismatching numbers printed. #

Miscellaneous problems

  • In Flintshire, Alyn and Deeside, Delyn and the Vale of Clwyd, envelopes sent out cannot seal properly. #

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Arrests, appeals and AWOL ballots

Two men have been arrested in connection with allegations of postal vote fraud in Bradford - it's unclear if this is to do with the same allegations that were reported here yesterday. (Update: The Yorkshire Post reports that it is a separate enquiry).

Meanwhile, one of the councillors in Birmingham, Muhammed Afzal, has been cleared of vote fraud charges, but the ruling that the other two engaged in illegal practices stays.

Meanwhile, the reliance on printing contractors to handle distribution (as well as production) of postal ballots has caused further problems - in Macclesfield and nearby Tatton, 2,400 papers have not been sent out correctly, and are having to be reprinted. In addition, hundreds of envelopes meant for Windsor have ended up being sent to Skegness. The Times also reports of missing papers in Hereford, and of 2,500 duplicate papers being sent out in Oldham West & Royston.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

More allegations in Bradford

In Bradford, a second councillor, Mohammed Sultan, is being investigated for postal vote fruad, after it was found he had 16 postal votes directed to his own address. Mr Sultan denies wrongdoing but has resigned the Conservative whip. This follows similar allegations against Jamshed Khan, another Conservative councillor in Bradford.

Meanwhile, the three Labour councillors in Birmingham have an appeal and it should be heard today.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Postal voting irregularities all over the country

The Sunday papers have a set of articles on mistakes in postal voting nationwide. The Sunday Times highlights the case of Mohammed Akram, a Labour supporter who applied for voter forms on behalf of four of his neighbours, all of which were sent to his address. At least two of his neighbours were unaware that this had taken place, and will now be unable to vote on May 5.

In addition, irregularities in the process have been reported in Finchley & Golders Green, Glasgow, Blackburn and Bethnal Green & Bow. One voter in Norwich has been sent 14 papers, most for former residents of his address.

In addition, the Sunday Telegraph reports that in Basingstoke, people have been sent duplicate papers. 363 households have received two sets of papers. Basingstoke's majority at the last election was only 880. Meanwhile, a separate investigation demonstrates the insecurity of the system; it was able to get 11 ballot papers in different constituencies sent to the same residence in south west London, using simple forms and a fake signature.