Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Postal vote fraud could swing election

Voter fraud could determine the outcome of the general election as evidence emerges of massive postal vote rigging. Police have launched 50 criminal inquiries nationwide amid widespread cases of electoral rolls being packed with ‘bogus’ voters.
Officials report a flood of postal vote applications in marginal seats. With the outcome of the closest election in a generation hanging in the balance, a few thousand ‘stolen’ votes there could determine who wins the keys to Downing Street.
Anti-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell said: ‘There is actually a possibility that the result of the election could be decided by electoral fraud. That’s pretty grim.
‘We are facing a situation where we can no longer trust the integrity of our electoral system. It was a huge mistake to extend the postal vote. It opened up our system to all kinds of frauds.’
Out of a total estimated electorate of 46million, 7million have registered for postal votes.
The Metropolitan Police are examining 28 claims of major abuses across 12 boroughs - with four separate investigations in Tower Hamlets, East London. Labour supporters stand accused of packing the electoral roll at the last minute with relatives living overseas or simply inventing phantom voters.
Officials in Tower Hamlets received 5,166 new registrations just before the April 20 deadline, and there has been no time to check them all.
In Bethnal Green, it is feared the electoral register has been deliberately stacked with fictitious names.
Yesterday the Mail visited one four-bedroom flat in the area where 18 men are apparently claiming a vote, all of whom registered within the past month.
The students living there were baffled by many of the names said to be residing with them. Another resident was surprised to learn that eight complete strangers were also registered as living in the small flat she shares with her partner.
Other addresses investigated by the Mail were linked to the Labour Party.
At a property in Rainhill Way, Bethnal Green, where Labour Party council election candidate Khales Uddin Ahmed lives with his family, seven adults have suddenly joined the electoral roll.
A few streets away, where Labour councillor Shiria Khatun is seeking re-election, her household has been boosted by three new voter registrations at her small flat within the past few weeks. Her husband angrily slammed the door when questions were asked yesterday.
The Mail’s Richard Kay has learned that for the first time ever the Commonwealth is dispatching a group of election monitors – more used to supervising banana republics – to scrutinise the results on Thursday.
Opposition parties fear a concerted effort is being made to swing the election.
Tower Hamlets Conservative councillor Peter Golds said: ‘There is increasing evidence of ongoing electoral corruption. I am concerned that there will be no attempt to investigate this before election day.
‘All the dodgy addresses seem to involve Bangladeshi names, and the police are terrified of investigating that community for fear of being branded racists. At one of the addresses, a Russian woman answers the door. How many Bangladeshi men live together with a Russian woman?’
 Numerous other examples of this corruption are coming to light, including a visitor from Bangladesh who arrives with a tourist visa next week, but whose postal vote has already been sent off.
The problem is not confined to London. In Yorkshire, five police investigations are under way in Bradford and Calderdale, where two arrests have been already been made.
In Derby, police are investigating several claims of electoral fraud, including one case where a female voter was allegedly intimidated by three men who demanded that she fill in and sign postal votes for the Labour Party.
In Surrey, Tory activists have received reports that two members of a rival party pretended to be Conservatives and bullied a man on a ventilator in hospital into signing over his postal vote to them.
Under election law, anyone from Commonwealth countries can vote in the general election if resident in the UK.
But names can be added to the electoral roll – and become eligible for postal votes – without anyone checking their identities or whether they are actually in the country.
In 2005 around 15 per cent of all votes were cast using a postal vote, but the Electoral Commission watchdog believes that figure will rise this time.
In the last month there were 150,000 applications and, in some areas, postal vote registrations have increased by 200 per cent since 2005.
Surveys of the most marginal seats, where the election will be decided, have revealed a surge in postal voting.
In the key marginals Edinburgh South and Barnet, postal votes are up by 60%, while Brighton has seen an increase of 40% in voter registration.
In Islington, a vital Labour-Lib Dem marginal, the numbers on the electoral roll have increased by nearly 20,000 to 135,800 in just five years. 
The Electoral Commission, which oversees the elections process, warned seven years ago that widespread postal voting is open to fraud.
But rules to ensure that every voter has to provide personal ID before joining the electoral roll will not come into force for three years. Daily Mail

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