The Electoral Commission has published the results of its third survey of reports of electoral fraud and other malpractice, this time covering the 2010 general and local elections and for the first time including data for every police force.
Commenting on the findings, Electoral Commission Chair, Jenny Watson, said:
There was some high profile reporting of alleged electoral malpractice around the elections and perceptions of fraud continue to be a concern to voters. Yet these figures do not support the more pessimistic perceptions: there’s no evidence of widespread attempts to commit electoral fraud, or of election results being called into question. It is important the public have accurate information on electoral malpractice and I would like to thank police forces across the UK for proving the data to make this analysis possible.
It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point and no one should be complacent about the risks at the elections and referendums this year. We continue to work closely with the police, elections staff, the Royal Mail and political parties to ensure the threat of electoral malpractice is reduced, and we’ve seen examples of excellent joint working between police forces and electoral administration teams.
The UK Government’s commitment to introducing individual electoral registration will be another important measure to help tighten up the democratic process. The next step is for them to consider introducing the requirement for ID at polling stations in Great Britain, as is already the case in Northern Ireland. We’ve raised this in our report after the UK Parliamentary General Election and asked Government to lead the debate.
The reference to showing ID at polling stations reflects increasing concerns over impersonation at polling stations in the last few years, partly as a result of many of the easy ways of carrying out postal vote fraud having been curtailed by changes in the rules.
Overall the Electoral Commission found that 232 cases of alleged malpractice were reported to the police as a result of the May 2010 elections, with the police deciding in 137 cases that no further action was required.
So far two cases have been to court (one conviction and a fine of £200, one acquittal), two cases saw police cautions issued and 23 were concluded with the police giving informal advice short of a caution. The other 68 cases are either still with the police or awaiting decisions by prosecutors.
These apparently comforting figures have been attacked by some as showing undue complacency by the Electoral Commission:
Critics have attacked the report as a whitewash, stating that the lack of successful prosecutions simply highlights how difficult it can be to investigate voting irregularities.
Rob Hoveman, an election agent for the Respect Party, which claimed postal-ballot rigging was commonplace in East London, said: “The fact is that it remains very easy for votes to be cast through personation, for false voters to be registered and, above all, for undue, inappropriate and illegal pressure to be applied in the casting of postal votes through the postal vote on demand system.”
He added: “Just because a crime hasn’t been prosecuted doesn’t mean a crime didn’t take place.” [The Independent]
In addition to these concerns over whether particular problem areas exist which need more effective action, the details of some cases which were not pursued suggest that there is more going wrong than the number of successful prosecutions indicates. The Electoral Commission’s report gives this example from Peterborough:
Initially, Peterborough City Council followed robust sifting procedures of several hundred applications to register to vote and to vote by post. Following this, 150 applications were identified as high risk and referred to Cambridgeshire Constabulary for further investigation.
A man was identified to have delivered the applications to the City Council. He was subsequently arrested and his computer equipment was seized from his home address.
He denied any knowledge or involvement concerning fraudulent voting applications and summarised his involvement as being a delivery driver for the Conservative Association. He freely admitted handling the applications and denied any knowledge as to how they were constructed. Low level enquiries were completed with the Conservative Association to identify the existence of reliable third party evidence that might identify those involved but none was found.
The defendant was bailed to allow the examination of his computers to identify the existence of source documents (tenancy agreements in particular) which may have been used in support of false applications and to complete an identification procedure involving potential witnesses. Both these lines of enquiry were negative and no further action was taken against him.
A joint decision was made by Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire Constabulary that, as no person appeared to have been denied their right to vote in the 6 May elections nor any suspect identified, no further investigation would be carried out. Furthermore, no further referrals, intelligence or complaints, were received by Peterborough City Council or Cambridgeshire Constabulary in relation to allegations of electoral fraud.