Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council.
If a supporter wishes to join the Labour Party, they are asked to submit two items of verification that can be cross-matched against their address before the membership application is confirmed. This ensures veracity in elections for party officers and the selection of candidates.
When voting in a referendum, local, or national election in England, Scotland and Wales the same person is able to go to a polling station, give a name and address and will be handed a ballot paper.
The proposal for a pilot scheme whereby electors will provide a form of ID before being given a ballot paper is timely, and beyond the inevitable metropolitan bubble, uncontroversial. I am sure that it will be widely supported by the electorate.
On December 27th a caller came onto LBC to say that in the June Referendum he had cast a vote in Hackney using the name of his brother who was abroad, which goes to show there is the potential for corruption.
I have met European citizens who are entitled to vote in UK local elections, and who are surprised that ballot papers are handed over on demand and with no check. I have also met and have been contacted by UK citizens who express similar concerns.
For a number of years ID has been required to vote for elections in Northern Ireland and it has increased confidence in and the veracity of the poll; there has been no effect on turnout.
The corruption that has so often been identified in Tower Hamlets may be an exception, but it is an exception that needs to be stamped out before it spreads further.
The range of ID that people have and carry around nowadays is extensive. It includes passports, driving licences, bus passes, student cards, club membership cards, ID to gain entry to one’s place of work and any amount of documentation used when dealing with the numerous organisations that citizens use on a daily basis. In Northern Ireland a voter with none of these, and this is minimal, can obtain a document from the Returning Officer which enables them to vote.
In recent elections in my borough I have seen supporters of the former disqualified Mayor outside polling stations with copies of the electoral register identifying names to be given to those entering the polling station. In October 2010, during the first Rahman election, I was present in the polling station at Christchurch, Brick Lane, when a man appeared holding his poll card from the May local elections. This card had been issued by the Returning Officer for the London Borough of Enfield and was therefore of no relevance in Tower Hamlets. He gave several variations of his name and asked the poll clerk to identify an address where a name may have fitted. After a few attempts he left and was seen speaking to those outside with the register.
Sadly, research has established the frailties of the system within certain communities. I have previously drawn attention to the Report commissioned from Manchester and Liverpool Universities by the Electoral Commission in January 2015 entitled: “Understanding electoral fraud vulnerability in Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin communities in England. A view of local political activists.”
It is a valuable insight into the problems that are apparent amongst some within these communities and how ruthless so-called “community leaders” exploit the frailties of the electoral system to promote their own interests.
This does not mean that electoral malpractice is confined to single communities. Imprisoned this Autumn was a white, former Conservative councillor on Derby City Council who submitted a false address on his nomination papers. The circumstances were similar to a number of incidents in Tower Hamlets, incidents in which the Metropolitan Police were seemingly unable to collect evidence, despite witnesses being willing and able to provide it. Had the Police undertaken investigations with evidence gathered in accordance with The Police and Criminal Evidence Act then there could well have been prosecutions. Of course, by not investigating there is no offence recorded, which makes for an encouraging statistic of, no offence. In this borough the Police have a long history of simply ignoring or not correctly following up complaints of electoral fraud.
We should all welcome proposals to tighten up postal voting. There should be no problem in expecting people to renew their postal vote application after several years.
More important will be strengthening rules into the handling of postal votes by activists. In 2012 there was a Tower Hamlets by-election; an election which showed the Rahman organisation just how far they could go, in which 14 per cent of postal votes received at the town hall were rejected because either signatures or dates of birth or both on the completed ballot were at variance with the application forms. Two years later a man was stopped in a car with several hundred photocopies of postal vote applications. These of course would include the dates of birth and signatures. The Police duly “spoke to him” and he went on his way.
The other matter referred to in this week’s announcement is the crowding of polling stations and intimidating voters as they enter. Significantly, Labour appear to be supportive in preventing this growing problem.
At the opening of this article I referred to Labour requiring ID for party membership. Almost as soon as the Government proposals for the pilots were announced, Katie Ghose of The Electoral Reform Society announced in a press release “mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
Katie Ghose has been a much travelled seeker of a Labour parliamentary nomination. This, in her chosen party, is a process whereby members have to provide items of ID before being registered. She is very silent on that rule. If it is good enough for internal Labour elections and selections it is good enough for participation in the democratic process.