Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More election fraud in the UK

Electoral fraud is something we think of as happening in Central Asian tyrannies, or in emerging democracies with a weak state and weaker democratic tradition. Unfortunately it happens in the UK as well. Five years ago six Labour councillors in Birmingham were convicted of electoral fraud over a massive operation to farm postal votes. And now there are allegations of serious fraud in a marginal seat in the recent general election, after more than 4,000 postal ballots were delivered by hand to polling stations in the electorate of Halifax:

Local Tory officials raised questions over the validity of some of the postal ballots after they discovered that a number of empty and derelict addresses in one particular ward had voters registered to them. They allege that Labour Party activists spent the days before the election "farming" postal ballots to deliver directly on 6 May and have asked both the police and the Electoral Commission to investigate.

Labour's incumbent candidate, Linda Riordan MP, only managed to hold on to her seat by a relatively small majority of 1,472 votes.

It is believed that a large number of the postal ballots were handed into polling stations in Park Ward, an area of Halifax with a large Asian community and a traditional Labour stronghold. According to the electoral roll, 2,283 people are registered as postal voters in the Park Ward area. The Tories say they have uncovered evidence of voter impersonation, phantom registrations and voter intimidation which they have passed on to the police.

(There's a deep irony here in that two Tory local body candidates for the same area were arrested two weeks before the election on suspicion of electoral fraud. I guess it takes one to know one).

The common link here is postal votes, enabled by the UK's archaic system of electoral administration. Rather than filling out a form (allowing them to be checked against birth and residency records as happens in NZ), voters in the UK are enrolled by election workers visiting houses and asking the "head of household" who lives there - a system the Council of Europe has criticised as being open to childishly simple fraud. This allows phantom voters to be enrolled, and postal votes to be "farmed" by corrupt party workers. In addition, the postal voting system apparently lacks checks to prevent multiple voting - a basic feature of any serious electoral system.

This is no way to run a democracy. Unfortunately, fixing it does not seem to be on the UK government's agenda. It should be.