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Metropolitan Police Authority Report on Election Fraud

I am not sure where this is available on the web and it has been commented on in the media, but here is part of the report.

Within the MPS, election offences (often referred to as electoral fraud), are investigated by the Special Prosecutions Unit (SPU) of the Counter Terrorism Command (CTC - SO15), as such investigations were previously the remit of SO12 (Special Branch). In relation to the local elections of 4 May 2006, around 30 separate investigations have taken, or are currently taking place. The scale of these investigations differs enormously, from simple allegations involving technical breaches of election law through to a major investigation currently underway in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where a wide range of apparent fraudulent activity is being investigated. The complexity of these investigations makes it difficult to be precise in counting the number of individual offences involved. A number of these investigations have already concluded, whereas some allegations may be the subject of criminal charges, following directions from the Crown Prosecution Service.
4. Election offences have been alleged across a range of London Boroughs, and there is no particular pattern to the spread of these offences. Similarly, offences under investigation involve the full range of political parties, and include sitting councillors, candidates, elections agents, canvassers and party activists. Offences reported include falsification of nomination papers, impersonation, making false statements about candidates, undue influence on voters, failing to include an ‘imprint’ on election publicity material and non-submission of expenses.

5. One area that has caused, and continues to cause, a great deal of concern is the spread of postal voting on demand. The process of postal voting removes some of the safeguards that come with the traditional method of casting a vote at a polling station, primarily the secrecy of the ballot. There are a number of ways that the postal voting system can be abused, and such abuse can amount to criminal offences of forgery, deception and conspiracy to defraud. The SPU has also seen evidence of a range of questionable practices which call into question the integrity of the postal voting system, but would not amount to criminal offences in their own right. Such activity could be termed ‘sharp practice’. A ‘Code of Conduct’ [2] was prepared jointly by the Electoral Commission and the main political parties, to deal with handling of applications to vote by post and also the handling of postal ballots. It gives clear advice on what is and what is not considered acceptable practice. The ‘Code of Conduct’ has no force in law and the SPU has seen evidence of the Code being ignored by candidates and their supporters.

6. The SPU has received a large number of allegations regarding postal voting irregularities in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH). These allegations have received a considerable amount of local and national press coverage. A number of allegations relating to electoral offences in LBTH were made during the General Election of 2005 (which were the subject of scrutiny by the Greater London Assembly [3]), but there was not sufficient evidence to bring a prosecution. It was not surprising that similar allegations were made this year. Indeed, this was anticipated in a letter from the MPS to the Chairman of the Election Review Committee. LBTH Council informed the SPU at an early stage that they believed that suspicious activity was occurring in relation to postal vote applications, and liaison with the electoral services department took place immediately. The scale and range of the offences alleged meant that a separate investigative team was set up to deal solely with these allegations, and it will continue to work on these matters for the foreseeable future. The nature of the alleged offences being dealt with in LBTH include the fraudulent multiple redirection of postal votes, apparent clusters of disenfranchisement, postal ballot papers being received by those who have not applied for them, postal votes applied for and subsequently not received and various allegations of third parties filling in postal vote application forms and postal ballot papers. This list is by no means exhaustive. It is not possible to go into more detail here as this may compromise ongoing lines of enquiry. This will be a protracted investigation.

7. It is the view of the SPU that widespread use of postal votes has opened up a whole new area to be exploited by the fraudster, and the opportunity has been taken. It is difficult to assess if abuse of postal voting has altered the outcome of local elections, but it is possible. It is the view of the SPU that the postal voting system must be properly managed and scrutinised, otherwise the integrity of the electoral system will be compromised. Previously, council electoral services whilst being responsible for the administration of elections, did not have a clear remit, or the resources, to effectively scrutinise the postal voting system. Nor was there a requirement for postal vote applicants to provide enough information on the application form to allow effective scrutiny. This will change under the Electoral Administration Act 2006, parts of which are already in force.

8. The Electoral Administration Act 2006 has introduced new criminal offences of furnishing false information, or failing to supply information to an electoral registration officer, and also an offence of making a false application to vote by post or by proxy. The Act also places a duty on electoral registration officers to take necessary steps to produce a complete and accurate electoral register. This will require some degree of scrutiny of postal vote applications on the part of local councils. Additionally, the Act requires that all new applicants for postal votes provide their date of birth as well as their signature in a specified manner (i.e. in a way that can be digitally recorded). These changes should make the detection and prosecution of electoral fraud somewhat easier, and will also have a deterrent value. The Electoral Commission continues to press for further legislative changes (e.g. individual electoral registration, rather than household registration) that should reduce the risk of electoral fraud even further. Officers from the SPU have previously given evidence to a Commons Select Committee on electoral fraud matters, and will continue to support the Electoral Commission in their efforts to promote confidence in and increase the integrity of the electoral system.

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