How easy would it be to steal an election in the UK? Over the break, I read “Banana Republic UK?” by Sam Buckley. In it, he argues that that it’s too easy to rig and steal elections in the UK, and that this has been compounded by the then Labour Government’s decision in 2000 to allow postal votes on demand as an attempt to increase voter participation. He reviews process of legal review of elections, illustrates the difficulty and cost of starting and winning such a review. He then looks firstly at the specific review of two wards in Birmingham in 2004, which led to the elections being voided and a number of individuals being disqualified from standing for public office because they had corrupted the postal votes. Those disqualified were members of the Labour Party; Buckley balances this by exploring a review of elections in Slough where supporters of the Conservative candidate were convicted of rigging the election by placing non eligible voters on the electoral roll. The constraints on who can request an election court, the burden of proof and the time limits make it hard for the Police to participate in ensuring that vote rigging doesn’t occur. They can prosecute wrong doers, but cannot void the election.

Buckely argues that postal (& proxy) votes violate the principle of a secret ballot and that a systemic failure to prove identity, outside Northern Ireland, when both applying for a vote, and casting a postal vote also opens the electoral system to the risk of ‘impersonation’ or vote stealing. He mentions the Tory Government’s 1983 Law to allow foreign resident expatriates to vote in UK elections, opposed at the time by Labour because they felt that it was a way of allowing rich and/or old tax exiles to vote and its new use in allowing expatriates in Pakistan and Bangladesh to vote in UK elections. Buckley, more controversially quotes the Evening Standard’s “investigations” into fraud which focuses uniquely on Tower Hamlets in the run up to the 2008  London election, an activity the Standard repeated in 2012, leading to an apology by the Standards’ legal department to Tower Hamlets electoral services officers.

In London, the Evening Standard needs to be considered as a Conservative Party partisan publication. It’s editor in 2008 and 2012 is a long term Johnson associate and has been appointed to a public position as the Mayor’s Arts policy advisor, funded by the public. The Snipe article linked to immediately above says there was no public competition and no short list. His office says this is legal, but given that it’s over the European Journal limit, surely he has to advertise, you’d think he’d want to spend on advertising in the Standard.

Buckley looks at the limited use of electronic voting in the UK and mentions the campaign in Holland to outlaw e-voting in public elections. The use in the UK provides significant evidence that e-voting is less accurate, more costly and opaque; it is not possible for candidates and the appointed public officials to observe and supervise the count. While he leaves conclusions to the reader, it’s clear he opposes the extension of e-counting; he’s right we should.

The European Council has investigated both the UK elections and “Remote” and Electronic voting throughout Europe and Buckley deals with their report sensitively and finds a quote agreeing with his thesis that both the construction of the electoral register and the lack of systemic security around the postal voting system, together with permitting postal votes on demand permit vulnerabilities to remain.

The Commonwealth sent observers to the UK for the 2012 general election and issued a report, hosted on their web site. They repeat the allegations that the system is corruptible, relies too much on trust, and made several recommendations including abolishing postal votes on demand, requiring ID to vote, and tightening up rules and practice around the protection of ballot boxes.

The book is a true public service and gives all democrats something to think about, it contains cogent arguments and evidence for tightening up our election rules, by requiring reason for a postal vote, checks that people are entitled to vote before being added to the register, and greater regulation and enforcement roles for the Police and Electoral Commission.

What’s my vote worth?
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