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.
Currently, a private members bill to ensure the secrecy of the ballot awaits approval by the House of Commons. Steered through the House of Lords by Lord Hayward, the bill has all-party support and should soon pass through the Commons. Why you may ask, is this necessary? The reason is simply that the Electoral Commission and the police are unable to define secret, which has resulted in the increase of what is politely described as “family voting” whereby a member of a family supervises the votes of other members.
However, the issue of voter ID appears more controversial, at least to some in this country. Across Europe and indeed most established democracies, voters provide ID before proceeding to cast a vote. Voter ID was introduced to Northern Ireland by the Blair Government with few problems and little opposition. The Republic has had voter ID for years and does not have national ID cards and use a variety of documents for ID purposes Just as in the north, there is no controversy.
It is said that there is no evidence of personation. I suggest that those who believe that read Willie Carlin’s: “Thatcher’s Spy; My life as an MI5 Agent inside Sinn Fein.“ He described organised vote stealing and says “this wide open abuse still exists on the mainland.”
He is absolutely correct. I constantly hear that there are minimal convictions and few complaints. One problem is that the police will only process a complaint if it comes from the elector whose vote has been stolen. The incident in Tower Hamlets where a voter was registered dead several thousand miles away but whose vote was cast on the same day was obviously unable to complain; therefore objections from political parties and the press were treated as hearsay and no action was taken.
Twenty per cent or more of the population never cast a vote. The marked register as to who has voted is available for inspection and political parties purchase copies and record who has voted. In the past five years, there have been nine elections/referendums of all kinds in Tower Hamlets. This excludes ward by-elections and referendums on neighbourhood plans. If a registered voter has not voted in any of these cases, they may be taken to be a non-voter and it is amongst this group that fraudsters work on. Through experience I know many non-voters in my local ward, a fraudster can obtain the same information quite easily.
As a non-voter, such a person will not be attending a polling station and discovering that their vote has been stolen. Some years ago I undertook research on this subject. In a controversial by-election, a number of votes were cast by electors who do not regularly vote. Some of these were visited and the response was usually a shrug of the shoulders as they had not voted and did not care about what had happened. One person was annoyed but refused point blank to complain to the police.
I reported the information to the police, offered a statement and was visited by an officer who was much more interested in establishing whether I had a legal right to the evidence I was showing him. My right was confirmed by the registration officer and his investigation was to to ask if votes had been cast by the registered electors whose votes I indicated had been stolen. When it was confirmed that votes had been cast he concluded the investigation on the grounds that as I was not one of the electors I had no reason to complain. As so often happens with police “investigations” into electoral malpractice, the complaint was ignored – or the offender is “offered words of advice.”
Personation is not risky for a fraudster. My local polling station has 3,700 registered voters and an annual turnover of electors of 25 per cent. It would be a very knowledgeable volunteer to spot a fraudster outside of a polling station with 3,700 registered voters. There are enforceable restrictions as to who may be inside the polling stations where ballot papers are issued and it is therefore unlikely that a volunteer would be inside to witness fraud.
Throughout the year, local elections are decided by a handful of votes and frequently there are dead heats and lots are drawn. In the 2014 elections, Tower Hamlets had more split wards, more recounts, and more close results, than any other borough in London. Personation was one aspect of the wholesale fraud that took place. In 2022, Democracy Volunteers, who monitor elections at home and abroad, noted this about Tower Hamlets:
“We were also concerned about the use of polling cards being displayed on an elector’s mobile phone and some voters being apparently unaware of their name and address which might have indicated some degree of personation in the voting process. We also observed some voters pointing out their names on the electoral register.”
In 2017 there was much controversy about messages on Twitter of people double-voting, and in one notorious case in the Midlands the electoral register was on display inside a polling station enabling people to identify names. None of these incidents resulted in police action.
As we know the Labour Party require ID to attend their conference and two items of ID to attend selection meetings. ID of one kind or another is routine, whether it be collecting a letter or parcel, opening a bank account, or students and young people attending clubs and bars. One may ask just as to why there is opposition to something that is an almost universal practice and supported by two-thirds of voters in this country.
As we move to the rollout of voter ID, it should be remembered that it has been in operation in Northern Ireland (for local, Assembly and UK Parliamentary) elections since 2003. There is much best practice that can be adopted for officials across the country based on the Northern Ireland experience. The Government is introducing a free voter card, which councils will administer. We know that 98 per cent of people already have an acceptable form of voter ID. Finally, to assist in the administration of the scheme, the Government will be providing extra (“new burden”) funding for councils.
Elections must be seen to be free and fair – and one step is to ensure that fraud is reduced to the minimum.