On-go­ing bat­tle against fraud

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Uk&world Update -

votes ex­ist for those who can­not get to the polling sta­tions. For this year’s elec­tion 18,841 postal votes have been is­sued.

Last year 37,641 postal votes were is­sued, but this was for the lo­cal elec­tion and the ref­er­en­dum. Seventy-three per cent of these votes were re­turned.

Bizarrely some peo­ple reg­is­ter for a postal vote but then hand it in at their polling sta­tion, pre­sum­ably be­cause they ini­tially don’t think they will be able to get to the sta­tion on the day.

Post­ing your crossed box would seem to be an ac­tion open to abuse from elec­toral fraud­sters, but in re­al­ity the ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem is sim­ple and log­i­cal one, and has al­ready ap­par­ently spot­ted dis­crep­an­cies.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties must ver­ify a min­i­mum of 20 per cent of postal votes, but Peter­bor­ough City Coun­cil is un­usual among au­thor­i­ties in that it ver­i­fies the full 100 per cent.

When a per­son reg­is­ters for a postal vote they pro­vide their sig­na­ture and date of birth, which count as their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Their posted vote is ac­com­pa­nied by a postal state­ment which also holds their sig­na­ture and date of birth.

This will be checked by a com­puter sys­tem for any dis­crep­an­cies - both pieces of pa­per are iden­ti­cally num­bered but the vote it­self is in a sep­a­rate en­ve­lope, pre­serv­ing the in­tegrity of the process.

Ver­i­fi­ca­tion started on April 20 and it was this sys­tem which caught out the al­leged vot­ing fraud in the Cen­tral ward, where 180 of the 1,153 postal votes sub­mit­ted were re­jected, lead­ing to an on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

There have also been five re­ports last week of peo­ple knock­ing at doors ask­ing to col­lect postal votes, an ac­tion which the coun­cil never takes.

A coun­cil spokesper­son said: “If any­body tries to help you vote against your will or if any­one tries to force you to give them your postal vote, you should con­tact the po­lice.

“We are work­ing very hard with the po­lice to min­imise the risks of elec­tion fraud in Peter­bor­ough and want to en­sure ev­ery­one in Peter­bor­ough is able to freely use their vote with­out fear or in­tim­i­da­tion.”

The Evening Tele­graph vis­ited the postal ver­i­fi­ca­tion process a week be­fore the vot­ing day, hours be­fore the al­leged fraud an­nounce­ment.

Un­til that morn­ing about 800 postal votes had been re­ceived, to be checked by of­fi­cers from the coun­cil’s fraud depart­ment.

Three prospec­tive mem­bers were even watch­ing the ver­i­fi­ca­tion, which is over­seen by the coun­cil’s com­pli­ance and eth­i­cal stan­dards man­ager Diane Baker. We were shown some votes with dis­crep­an­cies. One sig­na­ture was un­der­lined by the voter when reg­is­ter­ing, but not un­der­lined in their postal state­ment. In an­other in­stance a dif­fer­ent way of writ­ing ‘7’ alerted the ma­chine.

Both votes were ac­cepted as gen­uine mis­takes. They are not the first, and will not be the last.

Coun­cil solic­i­tor He­len Ed­wards said: “We have had some postal votes where the per­son has got mar­ried af­ter reg­is­ter­ing and the name didn’t match, or where peo­ple get their own date of birth wrong by trans­pos­ing the day and month.

“Some­times you can see the writ­ing is very frail, and you can see why the mis­take was made”.

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