Skip to comments.UK - No checks, no questions asked: that's how easy it is to obtain 11 postal ballots
Posted on 05/01/2005 2:14:05 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
It was frighteningly easy. Within five days I was able to obtain postal ballot papers enabling me to vote 11 times in the general election - and in county council elections on the same day. No checks, no questions asked.
I could, if I chose to, vote this week for candidates in areas ranging from London to York and from East Sussex to Cornwall
Of course, I will not do that. The point of The Telegraph's investigation was not to steal votes, but to expose how flaws in the postal ballot system mean that the general election is, despite repeated warnings and subsequent reassurances, still wide open to vote-rigging.
The investigation was carried out with the full consent of voters whose names were taken from the electoral roll, but it illustrates starkly just how insecure the system is - and how fraudsters could abuse it to steal many more votes to win seats illegally and pose a threat to our parliamentary democracy.
Our exposé will further undermine public confidence in a postal voting system already hit by recent high-profile cases of election fraud.
Obtaining the ballot papers was simple.
The first step was to download and print out application forms for postal votes from the website of the Electoral Commission.
Then they were filled in with names and addresses taken from the electoral roll and a request for the ballot papers be sent to a second address, in south-west London.
The forms were completed with a forged signature and sent to electoral registration offices at the local council in the voters' constituencies.
Within days I received letters confirming that a postal vote had been granted. The ballot papers containing the lists of election candidates arrived over the next few days. Officials made no attempt to contact people at either address on the application form.
The Telegraph is now able to vote in constituencies including Falmouth and Camborne in Cornwall, which has a Labour majority of only 4,527 and Twickenham, where the Lib-Dems have a majority of 7,655.
We also have votes in Conservative seats including Kensington and Chelsea (majority: 8,771), Billericay (11,000) and Wealden in East Sussex (13,772); and in the Labour seats of Erith and Thamesmead (11,167), Tessa Jowell's Dulwich and West Norwood (12,310), Islington North (12,958), Vauxhall, London (13,018), the City of York (13,799), and Poplar and Canning Town (14,104).
One other postal vote application, for Iain Duncan Smith's Chingford and Woodford Green constituency (Con maj: 5,487), has been confirmed by letter, although by yesterday the ballot paper had not arrived.
Another application, for a postal vote in the Labour-held Regent's Park and Kensington North constituency (maj: 10,266), has not been acknowledged and no ballot papers have arrived.
Our investigation shows how easy it would be to carry out postal fraud on a larger scale involving hundreds or even thousands of voting forms sent to many different but bogus addresses - and tip the balance in favour of one candidate over a legitimate winner, especially in marginal seats.
The Telegraph has passed the postal ballot forms on to the voters who volunteered to take part in the investigation, so that they will be able to vote in the election. At no stage did we intend to use the votes fraudulently or deprive those people of their right to vote.
Election officials told The Telegraph that they did not have the manpower to check all the forms and admitted that the system was "wide open" to fraud.
"You have proved that the postal voting is easy to abuse and, under the present rules, that is absolutely true," one senior official said.
The number of people voting by post is expected to rise to more than 6.5 million for Thursday's general election, about one in six of all votes. All the main parties have encouraged postal voting because it means that the votes are almost guaranteed and reduces the need for party workers to go round "knocking-up" to get known sympathisers to vote on polling day. Research shows that 80 per cent of those who apply for postal ballots do vote.
Concerns over fraud are so widespread that senior police officers, election officials and other senior civil servants were recently summoned to an emergency Whitehall summit to discuss ways to combat ballot-rigging.
The Association of Electoral Administrators, which represents election officials, last night accused the Government of ignoring calls to tighten voting procedures.
Malcolm Dumper, the association's chief executive, said: "We do not have the time or the resources to carry out stringent checks and that means there is the opportunity for widescale fraud."
In December the association warned the Government that the deadline for postal vote applications, April 24, would allow only five days to process millions of application forms and send out ballot papers. It called for the deadline to be brought forward to April 19, but the Government ignored the request.
Yesterday Dr Liam Fox, the co-chairman of the Conservative party, accused the Government - which introduced on-demand postal votes four years ago - of "trading away the integrity of the system and our national reputation for fairness in pursuit of their own narrow interests".
He said that Labour had "casually accepted the corruption of Britain's electoral practices" and pledged that the Conservatives would "restore integrity to British democracy" by creating an accurate national register, ensuring that every individual could be identified and requiring proof of identity.
Somewhere John Kerry is kicking himself.
Good news for those of us who have a 'buy' spreadbet on the turnout for the election! Who said the maximum make-up for the market was 100%?!
I can see a new use for the Tower of London....
Are you sure this wasn't in America?