In April I wrote about postal voting concerns in the light of the controversial Spitalfields byelection in Tower Hamlets. As well as ongoing stories about postal votes being collected from residents, I referred to some 14% of postal votes (135 out of 956) being rejected from the counting process because of non matching signatures, incorrect dates of birth and no signatures or date of birth on the attached declaration.
The controversy created considerable media interest and, for once, a response by the police. Although Tower Hamlets council, in their infamous council run “newspaper”, East End Life, rejected all concerns. In the May GLA and Mayoral election we were promised a regular police presence at polling stations throughout the borough. In the event local interest shifted to nearby Weavers ward, where there was a further byelection caused by the resignation of a Labour councillor and where Respect, supported by Mayor Rahman and his “Independent” colleagues put in a considerable effort to try and gain the seat.
Needless to say there was trouble at the polling stations in Weavers Ward, and the Evening Standard reported an incident at which the police were asked to intervene as early as 10am on election day. Members of the electoral commission visited the polling stations in Weavers Ward and saw for themselves the mobs congregated at the entrances to the polling places.
However, this left the rest of the borough somewhat quiet – in fact very quiet, particularly in certain areas of Spitalfields ward.
So let us look what happened between April 19th and May 3rd.
For the April 19 by election, 956 postal votes were returned and 1,484 electors voted in person. 135 postal votes were rejected from the count, resulting in 2430 votes entered for the count in the ward.
For the May 3 GLA election the Spitalfields postal vote return was down to 695 but 1,696 electors voted in person, with an overall total poll of 2,476. It is interesting that personal voters increased in two weeks but postal voters decreased. We do not know how many postal votes from Spitalfields were excluded from the GLA count.
We do know the borough wide postal vote return in May was 16,085 which is a 63.31% return and 1,232 of these returns were rejected before the count, 7.66% of the total. A number of these, 196, contained no signatures or date of birth and were possibly deliberate abstentions. There were still, worryingly, large numbers (974) of mismatched signatures and dates of birth which resulted in rejection. One may ask how 974 people have problems remembering their date of birth or are unable to repeat their usual signature.
The change in just two weeks in Spitalfields was remarkable and below is an analysis from five small samples in Spitalfields.
Brune House, E1
Registered postal voters: 69
Postal votes cast April 19th 2012: 55
Postal Votes cast May 3rd 2012: 25
Votes cast in person at polling station on April 19th: 60
Votes cast in person at polling station on May 3rd 2012: 54
Herbert House House, E1
Registered postal voters: 38
Postal votes cast April 19th 2012: 29
Postal Votes Cast May 3rd 2012: 19
Votes cast in person at polling station on April 19th: 27
Votes cast in person at polling station on May 3rd 2012: 21
Chicksand House, E1
Registered postal voters: 46
Postal votes cast April 19th 2012: 39
Postal Votes Cast May 3rd 2012: 24
Votes cast in person at polling station on April 19th: 31
Votes cast in person at polling station on May 3rd 2012: 32
8-24 Chicksand Street, E1
Registered postal voters: 38
Postal votes cast April 19th 2012:16
Postal Votes Cast May 3rd 2012: 7
Votes cast in person at polling station on April 19th: 16
Votes cast in person at polling station on May 3rd 2012: 11
14 Brick Lane, E1
Registered postal voters: 16
Postal votes cast April 19th 2012: 12
Postal Votes Cast May 3rd 2012: 4
Votes cast in person at polling station on April 19th: 0
Votes cast in person at polling station on May 3rd 2012: 4
Total votes cast by post from these addresses on April 19th : 151
Total votes cast by post from these addresses on May 3rd: 79
There has been much publicity about Brune House. During the Easter weekend stories circulated of figures going from door to door collecting postal votes. In one flat there were eight voters registered for postal votes, and a resident was prepared to say to canvassers and the media that only three people actually lived at the address, the other five (postal voting) registered electors lived elsewhere. Another resident photographed a well known local figure with what appears to be an armful of completed postal votes.
We are looking here at five samples from a small area in a single ward, where we have comparative date from two elections in two weeks and the figures are striking. A dramatic fall in the postal vote return in just two weeks, yet the turnout in the ward on May 3rd was, overall, slightly higher than on April 19th.
We have also looked at some addresses where there are large blocks of voters registered for postal votes, which were returned for the by election but not the GLA and there are many examples. These range from seven voters in address in Hanbury Street to several case of four and five voters in single addresses.
Was there a sudden decline in electoral interest in two weeks or did no one come and collect the ballots. The coincidence of every vote being from an address being cast in April and not in May is, shall we say suspicious.
On May 2nd I received a call from a police officer who was charged with investigating these matters, I pointed out that I was busy that day but looked forward to hearing from him as soon as possible after the election. Weeks later, I await the return call. This delay will mean that gathering evidence will be far more difficult. The police have access to the information I have and more. They should be calling at these addresses, with copies of the signed electoral registration forms and the signed postal vote applications and undertaking a check. They should also be asking about vote collecting. I can even give them a photograph, a name and a car number.
I also met the electoral commission, who were I suspect, concerned at the behaviour at the three Weavers Ward polling stations that they observed. However, there is little they can do under existing rules.
Currently Parliament is looking at Individual Voter Registration. This, in my view, is essential as a first step to restore integrity to the system.
However, we need to bring in the rules which currently operate in Northern Ireland, and everywhere else in Europe, requiring some kind of ID when voting in person.
Postal voting on demand, even with the slight amendments that the electoral commission put such store by, is an invitation to corruption and both undermines the secrecy of the ballot and a belief in democracy but this needs to be reviewed. There are well versed arguments and reasons for postal voting, but laziness or corruption should not be amongst them.
The April 19th Spitalfields by election was decided by 43 votes. The five samples of evidence I have outlined above show where those 43 votes may have came from.
Unless this situation is dealt with what happens when it is a constituency decided by 43 votes from a couple of blocks of flats?
atter, which is endemic in Tower Hamlets, is misusing addresses for the purposes of standing for election. The Labour Party operates strict rules regarding candidates. They are expected to live where they seek election.
At one time a candidate could be disqualified from membership of a local authority for misrepresenting their home address on a nomination paper. Now the element of home address on the nomination appears to be convenience.
In Tower Hamlets, we have many more than our fair share of people who like serving on the council, but not actually living here. In the last council a former member, Fazlul Haque, gave an address in the borough on both his nomination papers and his declarations of interest. He actually lives with his family, in Ilford and he became a standing joke when asking questions. I actually went to his address in Ilford and noted his car outside his real home.
Labour deselected him on these grounds and he promptly joined first Respect, and stood for them in Tower Hamlets in 2010, and later became an enthusiastic supporter of the Rahman administration.
Current Respect councillor, Fozal Miah, gives an address in Weavers Ward but actually lives with his family in Victoria Road, Barking. I have checked the voting returns and he voted (by post) in Tower Hamlets but did not use his postal vote in Barking, although his wife and daughter voted by post from their home address in Barking. At the address he uses in Tower Hamlets, believed to be the home of a relative, Cllr Miah was the only person to vote in the May elections.
We are currently actively checking on three other councillors who are supporters of the administration and who are understood to live in Redbridge and Newham respectively.
The point is that they appear on the register in this borough, because friends or family include their names. To all intents and purposes they do not live here. Their only stake in the community is paid membership of the local authority. If everybody did this and got away with it, how large would the Hampstead and Kilburn register become? After all a parliamentary majority of just 42 must be very tempting for those whose electoral aims are less than scrupulous.
Unless Parliament tightens the rules and the police enforce legislation, then the public sense of malaise in the electoral system will increase. And there will be a further erosion of confidence in the democratic process.