Postal Voting

Monday, April 04, 2005

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)

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