Grave concerns over the electoral process in Tower Hamlets

Posted on | Tuesday, 24 April 2012 | No Comments

In a letter I received from the Department for Communities and Local Government dated 11 April, a spokesperson stated, ‘Ministers in this department certainly have grave concerns over the upkeep of the electoral roll in Tower Hamlets’. However they then proceeded to wash its hands of any responsibility stating, ‘Ministers hope that recent allegations will be taken seriously and appropriate action is taken by the Council, the Electoral Commission and (if appropriate) the police’.

How then do we deal with the latest scenario affecting the bi-election in the Tower Hamlets Ward of Spitalfields and Banglatown?

The issue on this occasion focuses on the abuse of Postal Voting

On the day following the bi-election (Friday) I requested details of postal returns and was promised these would be emailed to me by the end of the day; unfortunately nothing arrived. It turns out all the departmental staff were told they could leave early (by 3:30pm) as they had worked so late to cover the bi-election the previous day. So be it - it meant I had to wait over the weekend before I could access the data available to the general public.

The Manager at Electoral Services finally returned my numerous telephone calls on Monday afternoon to say the information I requested would be emailed to me by 4pm that day. And here is the information I finally received:

Name of Candidate Number of Votes
BLAKE, Kirsty
Green Party 99

MACMILLAN, Richard Alan
Liberal Democrats 39

Independent 1,030 (Elected)

SMITH, Matthew James
Conservative Party 140

The Labour Party         987

Electorate: 7356  Ballot Papers Issued:  2,312 Turnout:  31.43  %

Number of envelopes returned (956) divided by number of postal votes issued and not cancelled (1418) = 67.42% return

Number of rejected envelopes (135) divided by number of envelopes returned (956) = 14.12% rejected.

Reasons for Rejections

No Signature 0
No Date of Birth 1
No Signature and No DOB 5
Signature No Match 72
DOB No Match 30
Signature and DOB No Match 17
Valid PVS - No BP 7
Ballot Paper - No PVS 3

My understanding of the process is that all votes – polled and posted – are scanned into the council’s files by the end of the polling day, albeit that is involves working into the early hours of the following day. Once scanned and counted the completed polling forms are held in a secure polling box. It’s unclear whether rejected voting papers are also retained.

With regards processing postal votes, they are opened and checked for completeness and accuracy; this includes the Voting Paper and Polling Vote Statement (PVS). Valid postal votes are then added to the polling station votes to be counted. Unfortunately no record is maintained of whether a vote for a particular candidate is received by post or polling station – I believe this is a weakness. For example we have no record of the postal votes received for a particular candidate. Further we have no record of the rejected votes received for a particular candidate.

It’s disappointing that it takes so long to extract basic information from what, let’s face it, was a small bi-election with a small turnout. It’s also disappointing that we cannot scrutinise invalid submissions to establish which candidates they related to, or how many were rejected. This should surely be part of the due diligence embedded in the process.

Of greater concern than the reject rate of postal votes (14% compared to 0.7% for polling station votes) is the stark fact that 41% of votes cast were postal votes. That’s a huge percentage. We have to keep in mind that postal voting is stripped of the key controls administered by polling stations, e.g., there is no control to either prevent duress or enforce secrecy. Refer to Andrew Gilligan’s article; it provides potentially incriminating evidence, and sufficient grounds one would think, for a criminal investigation into the abuse of postal voting. Notwithstanding this, postal voting was essentially intended for those unable to get to the polling station. Are we to believe that 41% of those who voted in Spitalfields and Banglatown were unable to get to any of the three polling stations?!

The Electoral Commission does state that a person on the electoral roll does not need to state a reason for preferring to vote by post, however it goes on to say, voting by post is an easy and convenient way of voting ‘if you are unable to get to the polling station’. In my humble opinion this is a clear abuse of the postal voting facility.

As I mentioned earlier, no record is maintained to show whether a vote for a particular candidate is received by post or polling station. At this stage we don’t know how many of the 1,030 votes cast for Gulam Robbani were postal. This is important in light of the foregoing, i.e., the postal votes should roughly match the proportionality of the overall vote distribution.A significant deviation would be a Red Flag in anyone’s book. Further, we have no record of the rejected votes received for a particular candidate and the same argument applies.

I am assuming a ‘probe’ ordered by the Council's returning officer will scrutinise this data. However, to cover the unlikely possibility it doesn’t, I’m calling for it under a FoI request. I am also requesting appropriate action is taken by the Electoral Commission and (if appropriate) the police.


Leave a Reply

Search This Blog


Grenville Mills