Monday, 7 December 2015

Britain's voting system isn't corrupt and the register doesn't exclude millions of voters.

Between UKIP frothing about postal voting and Corbyn's fanboys screeching about individual registration there's a load of nonsense talked about the UK's electoral registration system. The former are telling us that voting in any place featuring Asian Muslim voters is so corrupt as to be meaningless (or words to that effect):

The leader also claimed to see boxes where 99 per cent of the votes were for Labour's Jim McMahon – who branded Ukip supporters "rejects" last year.

He said: "It means effectively – in some of these seats where people don't speak English, but they're signed up to postal votes – effectively the electoral process is now dead."

Leaving aside how the Express calls Nigel Farage "The Leader", let's be clear about some things that went off in the recent Oldham by-election.

Firstly there was almost certainly some postal vote fraud (if by this we mean that some ballots weren't secret and a few might have been completed by someone other than the registered voter). Not very much for the simple reason that most voters and nearly all candidates aren't dumb enough to commit such a fraud.

Secondly the UKIP claim that 99% of the votes in any box were for one party is almost certainly complete nonsense. I've been watching election counts off and on for thirty odd years. I've watched literally thousands of ballot boxes opened up onto the table - including in places like Luton and Bradford where allegations about dodgy voting are legion. And I've never seen a box where all - or nearly all - the votes are for one candidate.

Thirdly and finally Oldham almost certainly saw (or didn't see) acts of personation - doing the Nigel Kennedy as we call it. But, like abuse of postal voting, these acts, however illegal, had no material bearing on the outcome. For what's it's worth, the result in Oldham was because Labour chose a good candidate with strong local presence (something UKIP didn't do) plus the reality that there is zero reasons why any Asian Muslim would vote for UKIP.

The electoral commission conducted a comprehensive review of electoral fraud - published in January 2014 - and concluded that, yes it happens but it's pretty rare even in places where there are lots of allegations of said fraud (like Bradford).

The thing with postal vote fraud is that there was just one event where it was widespread (I recall one candidate talking of another candidate - nothing like a bit of hearsay - farming hundreds of votes) and that was the bizarre decision of the then Blair government to 'trial' all-postal elections in 2004. Bringing about results like this one:

OK, I don't know if all that was down to vote farming but a striking result, no? And we know 2004 was a problem because nearly a quarter of those convicted of electoral fraud since 1994 were from that year's election. Since 2004 there's been no postal-only elections (choosing the Labour leader aside) removing the opportunity for the sort of wholesale vote farming that some say went on that year.

The electoral commission's conclusion about the significance of electoral fraud - and postal vote fraud in particular - is spot on:

Which brings us to the other issue - the one the left is so agitated about - individual registration.

It is believed that the Tories’ individual electoral registration (IER) reforms mean that 1.9 million people could fall off the electoral register in under six weeks’ time. Momentum claim that a further 8 million adults may not be on the register at all, meaning that 10 million will not be able to use their vote in next May’s elections.

Again there is some truth in this statement. Nearly two million names could fall off the electoral register under individual registration but this is mostly because those people don't exist, have moved, are registered somewhere else or simply aren't interested in being on said register. But the misinformation continues - here's Gloria de Piero MP who is leading Labour's charge on the issue:

We know what kinds of voters are more likely to be missing: they are private renters, people from BAME communities, the unemployed and lower-paid manual workers. But perhaps the greatest divide is between the older and the younger generation. Some 95% of over-65s are on the electoral register, yet the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds is just 70%

In one respect there's nothing new here. Under the household registration system the young, ethnic minorities, private renters and the lower paid were 'under-registered' so all the new system has done is reveal the truth about the accuracy (or rather inaccuracy) of Britain's electoral registers. And much of the blame for this rests (other than with people who aren't bothered) with local authorities and especially councils in urban areas that tend to vote Labour.

Under individual registration people are automatically registered if they are receiving any form of benefit - JSA, ESA, housing benefit, tax credits, pensions or child benefit. So all those unemployed and low-paid that Gloria is worried for have been registered (assuming they're claiming the benefits to which they're entitled). Local councils have also been encouraged to use their other records - council tax and so forth - to transfer people to the new system. The result of this is that around 90% of the existing register transfers across.

And those who haven't transferred? They are people who are not claiming benefits, not the head of a household, not council tax payers and not otherwise known to the authorities (in the nicest way). The biggest such group isn't the BAME, the lower-paid, manual workers or such - it is students. Whereas before students were either registered by Mum or Dad on the form at home or else registered en bloc in student accommodation now they have to actually fill in a form to get a vote. And (surprise, surprise) they don't.

The switch to individual registration is a huge success - the register is more accurate, the (not very common but real) practice of signing up false names is ended, and people are encouraged to take responsibility for their own registration rather than rely on someone else. As a result a load of inaccuracies - 1.9m or so - have been cleared out of the system, local councils have been funded to get a more precise register, and we can have greater confidence in the register as a guide to who is living where. This isn't gerrymandering but a route to an accurate record of the electorate. The problem for Labour is that most of the system's inaccuracies are in places where Labour Councils have done a lousy job keeping an accurate register.



Nigel Sedgwick said...

I have not understood Simon's point as to why the 2004 election in Manningham is "striking".

The total votes for all the candidates is 15,341. However, I assume that, as in elections for my local authority, each voter gets several (in this case 3) votes. The main difference from my constituency is that there are no independent candidates, but only those of the (then existing) 3 main parties (each fielding 3 candidates). There are 5,425 votes less than 3 for each ballot paper, which indicates that at least 2,723 people voted for only 1 (or 2) candidates - is this what is unusual?.

What is the case in such a (local) multi-seat election is that it requires only many tens of fraudulent votes to swing the result.

Anyway, back to my main question: what is "striking" about the result?

Best regards

Anonymous said...


The 'striking' thing was that the three elected candidates were one from each of the three major parties, allowing the author to imply from it that the election was 'fair' in its outcome.
Another interpretation, of course, is that in such areas (where party is less important than family/tribal loyalty) all the major parties have now, by necessity, become expert at 'managing' the postal vote system, thus rather than only the Labour Party being guilty of electoral fraud (the usual suspects), they are all equally guilty - the unfortunate victim being democracy.
The Birmingham judge was right when a decade ago he compared some British electoral districts to 'banana republics', but no-one seems to have the cojones to sort it out. Simon knows exactly what happens in his own city but shares the reluctance of his co-conspirators to confront it - if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
Ban all postal votes unless the voter possesses a Blue Disabled Badge, require photo-ID, NI Number and 'live' signature at all polling stations, apply indelible ink to the index finger and ban all proxy votes. So-called 'under-developed' countries vote that way, so why shouldn't we ? We've advanced from simple, secure democracy to institutionalised corruption within one generation - that's progress, apparently.