Postal Voting

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Colchester latest to suffer from misnumbered ballots

Around 400 ballot papers in Colchester have been given numbers that do not match the declaration form, like the examples mentioned earlier, so that any of those votes sent in would have had to have been invalidated.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Dodgy ballots in Haverhill; police investigation in NI

Further to the earlier reported story in the Guardian, faulty ballots have been reported Haverhill, Cambridgeshire; it's not clear whether this is one of the three areas mentioned in the earlier article.

Also, the Belfast Telegraph is reporting on a police investigation into alleged electoral fraud, reportedly in Dungannon.

Three more areas recall faulty papers

This morning's Guardian reports that the problem affecting Wyre, noted here yesterday, of ballot papers being sent out with incorrectly matching declaration of identity forms, has also affected three other areas holding elections, though they do not name them. 23,000 further ballots may have to be recalled as a result. The article also discusses the further implications of the mistakes in Wyre, and the possibilities of legal action should the result be close.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Further postal voting mishaps

The BBC have a summary of various postal voting mishaps, including the previously-mentioned dodgy envelopes in Wales and cancelled ballot papers in Wyre. It also reports that in Shropshire, ballots meant for the returning officers are being sent to local businesses instead.

16,000 misprinted ballots recalled

Wyre council in Lancashire has been forced to 16,000 postal ballot papers, as the serial numbers on different parts didn't match, potentially invalidating all the postal voters' votes. The council hopes to deliver the new papers out before polls close next Thursday. Good of them to have caught it, albeit with just a week to go; I wonder how easy it is to make a mistake like this? Other local authorities may not have been so eagle-eyed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Some more marginals with high postal counts

The other day, I listed some marginal seats with high numbers of postal vote applications. Courtesy of the BBC, here are some more:

  • Cheadle (33 majority in 2001; 8,226 applications)
  • Dorset Mid & N Poole (384; 4,306)
  • Norfolk North (483; 6,323)
  • Weston-super-Mare (338; 6,323)
  • Braintree (358; ~10,000)
  • Taunton (235; 11,700)
  • Orpington (269; 6,429)

News round-up

Apologies again for an absence that was due to circumstance beyond my control. Here's some recaps in brief:

First off, John Hemming's bid failed, and had received very little coverage in the news as a result, although the Telegraph notes he still had the sympathy of the judge, who deferred any change to the politicians; given that our leaders refuse to acknowledge the problems, this doesn't leave me with very much hope.

Meanwhile, a Conservative councillor in Bradford is under investigation for registering 13 people at his own house, and another 12 at a derelict property he had allegedly co-owned.

Although the Government has promised an advertising campaign (is this where all the much-vaunted extra money to combat fraud is going?) in a weak attempt to make up for the lax rules on postal vote processing, election officials note that the deluge of votes they are expecting will make it hard to regulate. Things won't be helped by the fact that in Wales, they can't even get the envelopes to seal properly.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

John Hemming loses High Court bid

Scotsman is reporting John Hemming has lost his Judicial Review bid. Damn. More to follow...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

JR up tomorrow

Councillor John Hemming's Judicial Review on postal vote security for the upcoming election will be heard tomorrow. Will be keeping a close eye on events.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

OSCE monitor warns of future fraud.

Bruce George, Labour MP for Walsall South and election monitor for the OSCE, has warned of possible fraud in the forthcoming election. George was an OSCE representative at the Ukrainian elections of last year; the OSCE will for the first time send in election observers for the 2005 general election.

Meanwhile, despite the overwhelming evidence against them, the three Birmingham councillors who were judged to have committed electoral fraud will appeal the decision, hoping to be able to stand for election on May 5.

Big three all happily process postal vote applications

While Conservative leader Michael Howard condemns Tony Blair for not following Electoral Commission guidelines, it turns out all of the big three parties in the UK happily go along with one of the watered-down rules, namely allowing parties to process postal vote appliations. Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems all have, as part of their election material, a form and envelope for postal vote applications; each party's respective envelope is addressed to the party's processing centre, rather than the local electoral officer. Allowing a party contesting an election to hand over application forms belies a serious conflict of interest, yet the parties refused to agree with the Electoral Commission's ruling that this should not take place; the relevant rule was watered down to a mere recommendation.

The Guardian also detail some marginal seats which have had enormous rises in postal vote applications, as does the BBC. These include:

  • Haltemprice and Howden (1,903 majority; 9,800 postal vote applications)
  • Surrey South West (861; 10,000)
  • Guildford (538; 14,000)
  • South Dorset (153; 3,500)
  • Torridge & West Devon (1,200; 10,000)

It'll be worth keeping an eye on all of these seats come election time; any more I find and I'll add them to the list.

Monday, April 11, 2005

John Hemming applies for Judicial Review

Favourite of this blog, John Hemming (who has quite a lot on his plate at the moment), has posted details of his application for a Judicial Review. Basically it will request the Privy Council (in the absence of the now-dissolved Parliament), to enforce a secure postal ballot, arguing the current rules breach the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to a free and fair election. It should be heard sometime this week. We await with bated breath...

Postal ballots could go to court; Labour "secretly dropped" reform bill last autumn

Apologies for no posts at the weekend, I was away. Anyway, here's quick news roundup: Although extra money has been promised to police to tackle postal voting fraud, The Independent on Sunday mentions as a footnote that ACPO chief Chris Fox has said no forces have seen any extra resources head their way. The main article mentions that over 100 (a sixth of all seats) have margins smaller than the number of votes, opening fears of Florida 2000-style court cases after the forthcoming election.

The Sunday Times, meanwhile, has an excellent in-depth investigation of postal voting. As well as summing up the Blackburn and Birmingham cases, the article highlights the main flaws of the system. They've been covered here before but it's worth re-listing them here:

  • Postal vote forms can be sent to any address, not just the registered ones.
  • Registration is done per household, not per individual, allowing householders to exaggerrate or outrightly lie over who lives at a residence
  • There is no record of voter identification (nor any legal requirement for councils to do so), making the signature on the ballot effectively useless
  • There are no rules on stopping campaigners and canvassers "helping" with either the registration or the submission of postal votes.
Individual registration, which would solve some but not all problems, has been advocated by police, the Electoral Commission and even cabinet committee level a few months ago; Labour have been considering reforming the system with a new bill last autumn. But a leaked memo from Peter Watt, head of Labour's constitutional and legal unit, vigorously opposed the proposals, fearing a lower turnout; never mind the valdidity of the ballot, Labour's election machinery is only concerned with getting their demographic out to vote. Another memo states:

"Labour supporters with a postal vote are four times more likely to vote than Labour supporters who vote at polling stations. If we can get them to apply for a permanent postal vote it helps our electoral prospects."

Labour quietly dropped the bill, probably because they werre more than happy for the status quo to continue. While the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have both promised reform of the system, Labour are still officially in denial over the flaws in the system - Tony Blair said the other day: "Overall, the postal voting system is no more prone to fraud than other electoral systems."

But there is hope - today's Times quotes Labour insiders as saying the bill will be resurrected if Labour win, thanks to the furore after Birmingham and Blackburn. Alas, the party is too embarrassed to say what a hideous mistake it is, so don't hold your breath for any official confirmation, yet.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Blackburn councillor jailed for postal fraud

Hot on the heels of the Birmingham case, comes the result of criminal proceedings against a Blackburn councillor, Muhammed Hussain, who was today jailed for three years for rigging a local ballot in 2002.

Once again, it was done via the postal vote. Like Birmingham, it was achieved through local campaigners going door-to-door and "taking care" of them; with no way of verifying whether a ballot was from who it claimed to be, nor any way of verifying the witness to the vote either, they could cast as many cotes as they liked. It was only thanks to a suspiciously return rate and the vociferous opposition of the losing candidate that Hussain was brought to book.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Judicial review sought for general election postal votes

Lib Dem councillor John Hemming, PPC for Birmingham Yardley is seeking a judicial review into postal voting. More details are available on his own blog. The Scotsman say it could well postpone the entire election, although none of the measures listed look like they could well; all it is asking for changes in procedure to make any fraud easier to track.

John Hemming has also thoughtfully provided a copy of the Mawrey judgement on the Birmingham Bordesley Green and Aston cases - it's available in the SaveDemocracy Yahoo! group. Alternatively I will email it (it's half a meg) to anyone who wants it. I will endeavour to post any particularly pertinent extracts on this blog later this week.

Postal strike could affect election

The Times is reporting that a postal strike could interrupt the general election: yet another reason why leaving the ballot in the hands of another service is a bad idea.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Raynsford pledges cash for ballot fraud policing

Nick Raynsford, the Local Government Minister, has promised £10m extra funding to combatting postal vote fraud. While the sentiment is welcome, the system needs reform, not cash. The £10m is to be spent on training & funding the police forces investigating any fraud; nothing will be done to prevent any dodgy ballots being made, but only on trying to clean up the worst of the mess afterwards.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Birmingham case - the blogosphere reacts

There's some comment on the electoral court decision in the political blogosphere - the consensus (whether Labour or not) has been that the elections concerned were fraudulent and the guilty parties punished. Eric the Unread questions the very need for postal voting for the healthy and able-bodied, and makes an excellent point in that an unreliable ballot could lead to less participation, with the electorate thinking "It ain't worth voting because they fix the elections anyway".

Meanwhile, Nick Barlow tells us to make sure the Labour General Secretary, Mike Griffiths, is kept informed of any infringements by Labour candidates at forthcoming elections, which is a splendid idea. For reference (from the Labour Party directory), he can be contacted by phone at: 01234 351 521 or via email at: mikegriffiths@gpmu.org.uk.

Unfortunately, the Harry's Place post on the topic results in a set of comments that degenerates into an argument about racism. Although race is a sensitive issue, especially in this case with all (or at least some) of the candidates involved being Asian and Muslim, we must remember that the postal ballot, being easy to forge and not at all private, aids in the disenfranchisement of ethnic minority voters. Jumping to false conclusions when ethnic minority candidates are elected, without any evidence to back allegations is of course uitterly wrong, but neither should not pussyfoot around when there is firm suspicion of fraud.

I am still trying to find a full copy of the report online, but neither Birmingham City Council, the Electoral Commission or the Government News Network have published it yet.

Birmingham: no better than a "banana republic"

The judge in the Birmingham case, Richard Mawrey QC, has ruled that the local elections were rigged, saying that there had been "massive, systematic and organised fraud" on behalf of six councillors in the Bordesley Green and Aston wards. 1,500 to 2,000 votes were fraudlently cast in Bordesley Green alone. It's perhaps best to quote one part or his scathing judgment in full, to highlight the Government's lax attitude towards postal voting fraud:

"In the course of preparing my judgment, my attention was drawn to what I am told is an official Government statement about postal voting which I hope I quote correctly: ’There are no proposals to change the rules governing election procedures for the next election, including those for postal voting. The systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working. Anybody who has sat through the case I have just tried and listened to evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic would find this statement surprising. To assert that’the systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working’ indicates a state not simply of complacency but of denial. The systems to deal with fraud are not working well. They are not working badly. The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated."

The above (emphasis mine) is quoted from a lengthy Times piece, which is good for all the gory details. It's not just the lack of action from our lawmakers that's the problem; the police also come in for criticism, too:
"The police attitude was well summed up by the use of the codename for these complaints - Operation Gripe. In essence, the police did nothing to prevent the fraud."

Although there were only six councillors charged, the judge hinted that the operation went well beyond just Bordesley Green and Aston:
"Bordesley Green and Aston were not isolated incidents but were part of a Birmingham-wide campaign by the Labour Party to try, by the use of bogus postal votes, to counter the adverse effect of the Iraq war on its electoral fortunes."

But Birmingham may well not be the only place - The Guardian reports that there are investigations in Reading, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire; The Sunday Times yesterday made more specific allegations, namely, that there has been misconduct by Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors in Bradford, with many of the same tactics used in the Birmingham case. The police are pursuing one allegation, but the rest have been dropped due to lack of evidence.

There is no word from the Government yet on the Birmingham case, or any possible change in the law (remember this is the first such case in 30 years) regarding postal votes. However, yesterday, there was an announcement that election monitors could be posted at polling stations and at local counts. But this misses the point entirely - all the electoral fraud is being done long before polling day, away from those places. With no system in place to check for postal vote fraud, the observers are not going to be able to detect any fraud that takes place.

(Minor update: Sorry, was in a rush when I wrote the above and Blogger is being temperamental today; I've now corrected the numerous grammatical errors)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Birmingham whistleblower facing deselection

The MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath Roger Godsiff (Labour), is facing a last-minute selection ballot, after having publicly complained about alleged electoral malpractice that has led to 6 Labour councillors being put on trial. Some of the practices included:

“During campaigning in the ward, regular phone calls were made to the police by people complaining about the pressure that they were being put under,” he said. “A postman complained to his superiors that the brother of one of the candidates had offered him £500 for his sack of postal votes.”

While claiming that the postal vote and electoral roll are secure, and no fraud in Birmingham has taken place, the Labour Party cannot seem to keep its own house in order - it is having difficulty maintaining an accurate list of party members in inner-city Birmingham for the reselection ballot.