Vote-rigging checks on ballot papers under way at Tower Hamlets

Your vote, Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

Your vote, Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Preparations are under way this-morning to begin the mammoth task of vote-counting at Tower Hamlets in London’s East End amid tight security against vote-rigging.

Council staff checking postal votes at Tower Hamlets. Photo: David Mirzoeff

Council staff checking postal votes at Tower Hamlets. Photo: David Mirzoeff - Credit: Archant

Ballot boxes are being piled-up at Stepney’s huge Troxy former cinema in the Commercial Road which has been taken over by Tower Hamlets council for the election count for mayor and for seats on the authority.

Council staff checking postal votes at Tower Hamlets. Photo: David Mirzoeff

Council staff checking postal votes at Tower Hamlets. Photo: David Mirzoeff - Credit: Archant

A staff of 184 are at the venue, ready to start the counting.

“We are verifying all the ballot papers first,” explained at Town Hall spokesman.

“A strict count will begin to make sure the number of papers in each ballot box is the same as the votes recorded at the polling stations.

“That will take us to noon, before we start the first count for Mayor and expect the result around 1pm.”

This is the most controversial poll, with 10 candidates vying for the post that controls Tower Hamlets’ annual £1.2 billion budget.

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Front runners are independent Lutfur Rahman, who won the post in 2010, defending against a strong challenge from Labour’s John Biggs, current London Assembly budget chairman.

Britain’s first elected Asian mayor has been seeking re-election amid claims of trying to gain votes with favourable grants to Bangladeshi organisations in the BBC’s Panorama programme last month, followed by an inquiry ordered by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles into the use of public money.

Observers and political activists will know by about 1pm when the vote for mayor is declared if the allegations are enough to unseat him.

Staff will then begin the mammoth task of counting the votes for 42 of the 45 seats on the council being fought over by 184 candidates from all political parties in what has been a Labour heartland.

Yesterday’s council election was cancelled in one ward, Blackwall & Cubitt Town, following the sudden death from a heart attack Hifzur Rahman, a candidate for mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party, just 24 hours before the polls opened.

The other 11 candidates fighting for the three seats in the ward had to withdraw. A by-election will be held for the seats in the next six weeks.

Meanwhile, the results for seats for the 19 other wards are expected to start being declared from 6pm tonight, with the full results in by 8pm, with 500 officials, counters, party agents and candidates packing the Troxy venue.

There are 183,400 voters on the register, including 30,000 by post.

Tough security checks have been carried out to tackle any attempts at postal fraud which have marred previous elections.

Officials have been scrutinising papers that came in during the week to make sure names and dates-of-birth tally with the application forms—and have rejected any that haven’t matched up.

“We are determined to tackle fraud robustly,” Tower Hamlets Returning Officer John Williams said. “We have been working with the police and the Electoral Commission to maintain the integrity of the elections with rigorous measures in place to prevent fraud.”

Vote-rigging scandals go back to 2006 and 2010 when hundreds of bogus registrations were uncovered, which led to an inquiry two years ago into Tower Hamlets Electoral Roll.

Police called at 88 suspect addresses in one investigation alone, following the 2010 election for Tower Hamlets mayor.

There has also been concern in the past over intimidation of voters turning up at polling stations.

Police were out in force yesterday at all 125 polling stations in the 20 voting wards, making sure intimidating groups didn’t gather, while officials were authorised to challenge voters they had suspicions about.

Counting for a third Tower Hamlets poll for the EU to send 10 London MEPs to Brussels begins at 4pm on Sunday at the Mile End leisure centre, with the local result declared by 10pm.