No widespread voting fraud evidence, but trust needs to be restored among voters in Tower Hamlets
PUBLISHED: 00:34 27 March 2013
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No evidence of widespread voting fraud in Tower Hamlets has been found by police, but a watchdog has said action is needed to “restore trust and confidence” in future polls.
The Electoral Commission called in Scotland Yard amid scores of allegations of postal vote scams in Tower Hamlets - including reports a dead person had cast a ballot in local elections in 2012.
Detectives found evidence of possible bogus postal votes in three of 64 cases they investigated but none was sufficient to identify suspects or bring prosecutions, the Commission said.
However, it called however for “significant changes” to address both a “breakdown of trust” between senior election officials and some councillors in the east London borough as well as “scepticism” about the Metropolitan Police inquiry.
Officers received nearly twice as many reports of fraud from the borough alone than the total for any other force in the country, mostly from local councillors, sparking an investigation that involved inquiries at more than 60 properties.
One from which postal votes were sent was empty, another no longer housed the people whose votes were considered suspect and those at a third denied applying for postal votes and would not assist further.
It was decided there was no prospect of tracking down suspects or getting sufficiently concrete evidence.
Many of the other complaints appeared to have been sparked by people referring to out of date registers.
The investigation also looked into media reports that a prisoner and a dead man had also “voted” but found no crime had been committed - the second individual having died after returning his postal vote.
In its report, the Commission suggested that some of the allegations may have been sparked by the “very diverse” nature of the local community - where a third of residents are Bangladeshi.
Some false claims of multiple entries on the register at the same address were found by the police to relate to people “who had identical first names and surnames but different middle names”, it suggested.
The Commission demanded an urgent review by the electoral registration and returning officers to find ways by May to improve fraud detection, transparency and systems for dealing with allegations.
Elected representatives “should make a clear public commitment to follow the Commission’s new code of conduct”, it said.
And Scotland Yard needed to review its plans for policing the next elections there in 2014 and improve its communications strategy to ensure an “appropriate balance” between keeping complainants informed about investigations and “more general assurance that the police are responding to concerns about electoral fraud and thoroughly investigating”, it said.
Commission chair Jenny Watson said: “Even a small number of cases of fraud can damage public confidence and there’s clearly been a breakdown of trust. Steps must now be taken to begin rebuilding trust to avoid future elections being damaged by allegations of electoral fraud.
“All politicians and campaigners in Tower Hamlets, including independent candidates, should also make a clear public commitment to follow the Commission’s new code of conduct. This code includes commitments about campaigning outside polling stations, handling postal votes and dealing with allegations of electoral fraud.
“We will be monitoring the situation closely and will publish our first progress report in July 2013.”
She also used the report to renew the Commission’s call for ministers to consider requiring photo ID at polling stations.