On-going battle against fraud
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”.