Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years,and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.
Until this century, electoral registers were full public documents and available to all. For example, they could be found in post offices and libraries to enable voters to check them. This changed when electors were given the right to be excluded from the public register in 2001.
If anybody wishes to check the current or recent registers, they could visit the local registration office where they would be required to complete a form explaining why they were examining the register and whilst doing this remain under supervision. It is not permitted to use the register for commercial reasons, and when examining the register it is also not permitted to photograph the copy provided. The researcher may record information by hand.
Those working to expose fraud in Birmingham, Slough, Woking and Tower Hamlets needed access to current and recent registers. In the Slough and Woking cases evidence gleaned from using registers resulted in vote fraudsters receiving prison sentences.
In Tower Hamlets an enormous amount of time and effort went into proving how various Rahmanites were defrauding the register and electoral process. This involved considerable time examining electoral registers, under supervision, in this borough and in other authorities.
The unusual case of the man who in the space of six weeks contested two elections in Tower Hamlets, in two different wards, using two different names and providing two different and false addresses required considerable research, including consulting electoral registers in Sussex, where he actually lived.
In the past weeks this procedure has changed, without consultation or an alteration to the law. Adrian Green of the Electoral Commission has written to councils saying that the law has remained “silent on what to do with electoral registers”, and this has been unchallenged since 2001. He goes on to say:
Unfortunately, the law is silent as to what is done with registers that are two and10 years old. Because the law is silent on this, the commission has interpreted that libraries and archive services may provide access to registers between two and 10 years old, but there is no duty for them to do so. If the library does wish to permit inspection of registers which are up to 10-years-old then they must be inspected under the same restrictions as the current register i.e. under supervision, only handwritten notes etc.
EROs (Electoral Registration Officers) should not provide access to any register other than the current register.
In short and in a stroke, Mr Green is hindering research into electoral registration. The law may have been “silent”, but this silence bought no concern and enabled research into potential voter fraud. The Electoral Commission has now decided that Electoral Registration Officers should not provide access to electoral registers beyond the current register. Instead anybody researching potential malpractice must go to a library and seek information, about which the library ”may provide access, but is under no duty to do so”.
Mr Green has, without consultation or a change in the law, slammed shut the principal way that investigating corruption of the register may be properly conducted.
I discovered this had been decreed by the Electoral Commission when I sought to investigate a possible case of false registration which had been bought to my attention, and I was refused permission to examine the 2017 electoral register in this borough.
I have written to Bob Posner, the commission’s chief executive, and asked him the following questions.
May I know for what reason the electoral commission has made this unilateral change?
May I know why the process enabling citizens to view recent registers under strict terms, which has been operative since 2001 and operated without problem, is being changed in this way without reference to Parliament or those who have used the facility?
May I know why, at the outset of a general election, when the commission will be under a spotlight, that an organisation, which should be defending free and transparent elections, is intentionally instituting difficulties which will hinder those who seek to investigate malpractice?
May I know how you would expect the police to be persuaded to investigate malpractice without material that is obtained from investigation of the electoral register?
Is it now the policy of the Electoral Commission to prevent the public from identifying problems of malpractice to enable the commission to pursue their own agenda in this matter?
This decision to change a long-established process, by a bureaucrat without consultation will do nothing to improve what little credibility remains with the Electoral Commission. Unless this decision is reversed quickly, it will hinder potential investigation into evidence of fraud that is discovered before 12 December.
The public pays £17 million per year to fund this body. What are Messrs Green and Posner up to? We should be told.