Interesting news today from the Electoral Commission. They have admitting that the postal voting system is still open to abuse and have conceded that identity checks at polling stations and restrictions on postal voting may be necessary to combat fraud. This comes a few weeks after UKIP’s Nigel Farage claimed that postal votes ‘are not free and fair votes’. I’ve agreed with that assessment for some time. I’m always reminded of my grandparents – my grandfather was a staunch Labour man but my grandmother voted Tory. If they’d been filling in postal votes she wouldn’t have been able to do that, it was just the way the relationship worked. I don’t think the problems with postal voting is as much about outright fraud (though it exists) as it about coercion. There can be a tremendous pressure in some households to follow the ‘leader’ and I think we need to acknowledge this as a problem.
Of course, I’m not against postal votes in cases where the person would not otherwise be able to vote – those on holiday, the elderly and disabled who can’t easily make it to the polling station. Beyond that, though, I don’t think it should be allowed. I do not believe that with polling stations open for 15 hours that most other people couldn’t take five minutes to make use of them. If you’ve got a special case, put it forward by all means and perhaps receive a special dispensation. But in trying to make voting accessible it seems to me that we’re actually hindering transparency and encouraging coercion.
The areas that will be monitored as part of this crackdown are places where there have been cases of alleged fraud in the past.: Birmingham, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Burnley, Calderdale, Coventry, Hyndburn, Kirklees, Oldham, Pendle, Peterborough, Slough, Tower Hamlets, Walsall, and Woking. The most striking of these is Tower Hamlets where after every election in the last few years there have been shouts of fraud and coercion. While there has been insufficient evidence to bring about prosecutions, this area certainly merits close attention. Next year it’s the Tower Hamlets mayoral election and, given the perpetual rumours of fraud surrounding the incumbent Lutfur Rahman, I look forward to these elections being monitored closely.
In my region, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees are going to be under scrutiny. Kirklees elections were hit with allegations of fraud last year with three men receiving cautions while in 2008 a former Conservative member was convicted for making false applications to vote by proxy. The problem is that outright fraud is rather difficult to prove. The small number of convictions do not mean it’s a rare activity. But, personally, I’m more worried about coercion. I believe that everyone should have the ability to vote without constraint, whether I agree with their political choices or not. I fear that just isn’t happening in the UK today.