By 10pm on April the 19th 31% of the voters of the Spitalfields and Banglatown Ward of Tower Hamlets had recorded ballots to elect a new councillor in place of the imprisoned Shelina Akhtar. By just 43 votes a
candidate supported by the Independent Mayor was elected.
The 31% turnout was interesting as there had been a by election in December 2010 when 17% of the voters took part and even in May 2010 in the combined local/general election the turnout was 56% compared to a borough average of 60%.
In this election some 956 postal votes were returned from 1,418 issued – a rate of return of 67%, however 135 (14.12% of the total) were rejected prior to the count and were therefore not entered in the count or included in the overall turnout of 2,312 which, as noted, totalled 31% of the electorate.
The reasons for rejection were:
No date of birth; 1
No signature and no date of birth; 5
Signature did not match registered signature; 72
Date of birth did not match registered date of birth; 30
Date of birth and signature did not match; 17
No ballot paper returned; 7
No PVS returned; 3
In 119 cases the signatures and or date of birth did not match. This in itself is unusual but coupled with suggestions that votes were being collected from voters it becomes alarming. An interesting side issue is at least one of the unreturned postal ballot papers ended up in a ballot box from a polling station, an event not unknown in Russia, where this is part of what is known as carousel voting.
So lets look at aspects of what happened on the day, or more importantly the days in advance of the election.
We can start with Brune House, Bell Lane, E1. There are 92 flats in this block, accounting for 231 electors. During the election seven names were added, four removed and one name on the register is too young to vote.
In the days before Easter, a resident contacted the media and various local politicians to say that a male representative of the Independent candidate in the by election was going from door to door collecting postal ballot papers. This was one of a number of allegations made that canvassers were collecting postal votes. This was particularly relevant to Brune House as there were 68 registered postal voters in the block, 23.8% of the electorate.
As a matter of information, in the European election of 2009, there were just seventeen postal voters in Brune House, which makes the rapid increase in postal voters even more unusual. However, as even Mayor Lutfur Rahman, then the Labour council leader, could not be bothered to vote in the European elections, this may not be a complete surprise.
In the case of one flat in particular, there are eight voters registered. Canvassers from political parties and a journalist were told that just three people were actual residents, with one of these, the father, in Bangladesh. However, seven out of eight postal votes were cast from this address.
By close of poll on April 19th, 53 out of 68 potential postal votes from Brune
House had been returned. This equalled a return of 78%, higher than the ward average of returned postal votes which was 67% and this figure will not include any which may have been amongst the 119 which were not even entered into the count.
On election day our candidate received the following email from a voter.
To: Matthew Smith
Sent: Thursday, 19 April 2012, 16:32
Subject: Re: leaflet
Dear Matt Smith
My husband and I went to vote this morning. When the man was marking us off, I noticed there were 4 names in red with a line through above ours. Does this mean that they had a postal vote?
If it is my next door neighbour (i.e. Monthope Road) then I have to say there are not 4 people living there. Originally it was a husband and wife and 2 children, but the husband died some years ago and the daughter married some years ago and has 2 children and lives elsewhere.
All four names at the address referred to were registered to vote by post, although none arrived at the count. One may wonder who filled in the application forms and what signatures and birth dates were included?
In another case, I have checked a particular block, with eighteen flats. None of these are large and I checked the three with the highest number of voters, which lead me to a fourth. Again the result is startling. What they stood out was that each flat had additions to the register made in the run up to the by
There are eight names registered at this address, and one elector had been removed. Three names were added to the electoral register in time for the recent by election. All elected to vote by post and all three returned postal ballots. No other person registered voted and the other names are three Bangladeshi and one European name. This suggests that there are three quite different families registered at this one address.
There are six names registered at this address, and just one elector (number 248) had been removed. Four names were added to the electoral register in time for the recent by election. All of these were registered to vote by post but no ballots were recorded as returned.
All of the names are Bangladeshi, except one which is clearly European.
There are six names registered at this address. were added to the electoral register in time for the recent by election. No names were removed (despite the high electorate at this property) leaving a mix of electors including two quite different European names.
There are three names registered at this address. Two names were added to the electoral register in time for the by election and both elected to vote by post, returning their ballots.
However, Malcolm, who had been alone on previous registers, remains on the electoral register at this address.
This is basic research from four addresses out of eighteen flats in a single block in one road in one ward.
Intimidation at polling stations
This is a particular Tower Hamlets phenomena that needs to be investigated and the police and returning officer made to act in accordance with the existing law and rules.
There are three polling stations in this ward. From early morning they were surrounded by groups of (mainly) men who became increasingly intimidating as the day wore on. By mid afternoon the number at St Anne’s Catholic Primary School, Underwood Road, reached 34 and by the evening it was never less than 35. It was absolutely impossible to remain on the pavement and walk to the polling station without forcing a way through this mob.
Numbers were fewer at the two other polling stations, but were always in the teens. Voters find this intimidating and the authorities make little effort to stop this behaviour. I accept that it is difficult for council officers, not least because the Executive Mayor, Lutfur Rahman and his deputy, Cllr Ohid Ahmed spent
much of the day on the pavements at Underwood Road and other leading members of his administration were very much in evidence at the other polling stations. Even the former prisoner, ex Cllr Shelina Akhtar, was outside one polling station for about two hours.
The rules on telling, published by the Electoral Commission could not be clearer and surely the police, as guardians of law and order, should take action to allow voters to approach a polling station without this aggression and intimidation which is now a prevailing aspect of elections in this borough.
On previous election days local Conservatives have ended up escorting elderly voters to polling stations because of this blockade.
With the GLA election taking place on May 3rd a ruling on this matter at least is essential.