Our submission to the Government’s review on electoral fraud

6749707399_c6a8e59c06_oPreviously on the blog we responded to the announcement that Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion was to undertake a review of electoral fraud

As we said at the time, we welcome the opportunity that it presents for building on the significant work that we have already done in this area.

Electoral fraud undermines democracy and weakens the United Kingdom’s strong tradition of free and fair elections. It takes away from individuals the right to vote as they wish, it distorts the results of elections and weakens the legitimacy of elected bodies, and it causes mistrust between communities. It is a concern that we have always taken very seriously and our submission of evidence which is available to view on our website here reflects this.

In January 2014 we published the final report of our review of Electoral Fraud in the UK in which we set out our proposals for making elections more accessible and secure for voters. Our evidence to the government’s review of electoral fraud builds upon this work.

Good progress has been made in recent years to address electoral fraud vulnerabilities in the UK, with the implementation of individual electoral registration in Great Britain last year, and the introduction of additional security checks on postal ballots from 2007. Both of these measures were introduced in response to Electoral Commission recommendations and are important steps towards reducing the risk of electoral fraud. However, other recommendations that we have previously made to Government, including to introduce a requirement for voters to produce photographic ID at polling stations in Great Britain (something which has been in place in Northern Ireland since 2003), would further help reduce the risk of electoral fraud in the UK.

But importantly, as I have said previously on the blog, this review should not ignore the fact that in most instances, electoral fraud is attempted, or committed by candidates and their supporters at a local level. Voters are the real victims in cases of electoral fraud. In our evidence, we have asked the government to examine this in greater detail given the proportionally high number of these cases compared to others.

The model for preventing and detecting electoral fraud in the UK shares responsibility between a number of different bodies. We believe the current balance is broadly correct but our submission makes further recommendations where we think that more could be done.

One area which in our view, could be improved, is the current system that allows parliamentary and local election results to be challenged by electoral petitions. In our evidence, we have highlighted that electoral petitions are not accessible or transparent to the public. The system does not allow challenges to take place promptly and provides no channels for appeal. We have made these arguments in our submissions to the Law Commissions’ review of electoral law.

Our evidence also recognises a public perception that allegations of electoral fraud are not taken seriously enough. Our experience is that the police and prosecutors do take electoral fraud seriously when allegations are made, but we think they could do more to reassure voters and campaigners that they will be listened to when they make a complaint.

This is why in our evidence we have also suggested that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (which replaced the Association of Chief Police Officers earlier this year) should undertake a national review of police approaches to preventing and detecting electoral fraud, including how they deal with allegations of fraud.

Thankfully, the evidence suggests that proven cases of electoral fraud are not common in the UK. The incidences of electoral fraud are usually concentrated in a small number of local authority areas, which we are able to monitor more closely.

Nevertheless, perceptions of fraud are just as bad as incidences of fraud themselves in damaging public confidence in elections. We hope that our evidence to the review will help towards ensuring that voters can be confident that any concerns about electoral fraud will be taken seriously and that all allegations will be dealt with in a transparent and fair way

Tom Hawthorn
Head of Electoral Policy

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