In this Country Postal voting was introduced about a hundred years ago for absent servicemen, though it all started in Aussie land much longer before that (understandable surely in such a large place without easy access at that time – but is it really appropriate in an over and densely-populated place like Britain?). Postal voting here then used to be restricted to those with physical disability or the infirm, or those who had a legitimate reason why they were away so could not vote at home in person. Not any longer though, eh? Any Tom, Dick, or Harry are simply allowed to decide to have a postal vote on demand – why is that? The perhaps laudable concept was introduced to increase turnout and voting participation – it may have been successful in that, but at what cost to our democracy, do you think? Is it much different to a private-less show of hands that we thought we had got rid of?
Postal voting allows an individual to return their ballot paper ‘in advance’ by post and so avoid the effort, which they are too lazy to take, of personally going to their allotted polling station on the appointed day and privately filling it in there. Is that a valid facility, do you think? In the last decade postal voting has unfortunately been increasing exponentially with bad effects.
There is much experience from around the World of countries of where those in charge hold so called elections and without shame simply and blatantly rig the results – and there are many-many ways of achieving that including bribery, coercion, intimidation (including that by campaigners at polling stations), and falsification. In many such places so accused (including Romania, Philippines, Mexico, Burma, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Egypt, Iran, Uganda, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Turkey, and many others – not to forget the US, Russia, and even the UK) organisations such as the Commonwealth of the Independent States – Election Monitoring Organization (CIS-EMO) attempt as international outsiders to monitor elections and report on the legitimacy and validity of the declared result.
The prime objective in any public election in Britain is that it is a private and a secret ballot (established by statute here nearly a hundred and fifty years ago), so everybody granted a vote is allowed to do so without direct supervision, made of their own free will, and nobody knows about their ultimate decision. That happens of course in a UK designated supervised polling station, but it can’t happen away from there, can it?
Oh yes, serious concerns about postal voting, without the security of a polling station, have been raised in Britain before, questioning whether it complies with the requirements of a secret ballot, as voters can’t cast their vote privately free from another person’s coercion, can they? There is always a significant danger of people filling-in ballot papers intended for other electors. Some thirty years ago such worries were being expressed officially about the increased opportunities for electoral abuse offered by the then existing postal and absent voting, particularly for an indefinite period, but nevertheless the Conservative government extended it even further, didn’t they? Subsequently, and unbelievably it was even allowed ‘on-demand’ (so no reason has to be given) by Labour some fifteen years ago – the effect is often to remove secrecy. [Political Parties change such things if they think they can gain some electoral advantage, don’t they?].
It is hardly surprisingly then, that some large cases of postal vote electoral frauds and manipulations have been uncovered in Britain – some ten years ago in Birmingham (for European and local government elections), Tower Hamlets in London three years ago then more recently including the election of the Bangladesh-born mayor, who had to be removed from office for election fraud earlier this year, but also in Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Burnley, Calderdale, Coventry, Hyndburn, Kirklees, Oldham, Pendle, Peterborough, Slough, Walsall, and Woking. You can be certain of one thing though and that is it only the ‘largest’ cases of frauds that are detected (and also then it is either not reported or difficult to prove, isn’t it? In the vast majority of cases no action can be taken), yet even small scale manipulations can swing election results, can’t they?
The evidence is that such fraud on a significant scale, while not widespread on available data, nevertheless happens in specific places and mostly, but not solely, affects local government elections – possibly because it is easier to achieve these manipulation? The culprits are likely to be candidates and supporters, and the voter victims those vulnerable, because of language shortfall, lack of tradition of the voting process, age, gender, or dependency – so those individuals become unable through manipulation, to effectively exercise their right to vote. Their origins of affected communities, are often places like Pakistan, Bangladesh and others in Southern Asia, but not exclusively. Places with extended families, and community networks can more easily be manipulated to achieve a block vote. It is generally known that in some societies the women in particular are not treated as equals and are expected to accede to the wishes and bidding of others, don’t we?
Why does this issue come up especially now then? Well in the constituency of Oldham West and Royton’s by-election last week, UKIP who failed to run Labour close as expected, are claiming that the size of Labour’s win was all down to ‘bent’ postal voting, while others say that assertion is simply sour grapes. UKIP have not yet made a formal complaint to the Labour run Oldham Council though – why not if they have any real evidence?
However, suspicions are bound to be raised aren’t they, when there is a massive increase in postal voting, individuals deliver hundreds of completed voting forms (all in favour of one candidate) to polling stations (not in itself illegal of course), and the Electoral Commission had named this place (as one of over a dozen) last year as having a greater risk of voter fraud being reported?
It is said by UKIP that Oldham’s Asian population of largely of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin had voted for Labour in large numbers (with some ballot boxes containing 99% of them), even though it is claimed, some did not even speak English but were nevertheless signed up for postal votes. Unusual, if nothing else, eh?
[A local Bengali and English newspaper reporter, apparently has said “So many people even don’t know how to fill in the form” – so how is postal voting valid and democratic under those circumstances, do you think?
[There needs to be a wholesale reform to postal voting (whatever happened in Oldham) to return us to a democratic, secret, and appropriate feature of our society – like in our Northern Ireland, where only those who have a good and valid reason, should have a postal vote, and all others should vote in person by showing id as well, surely?].
The authorities could do a simple check in Oldham West and Royton, can’t they? Select 100 women from households of voters in the Asian community, who are recorded as having used a postal vote in this by-election and see them on their own to ask six simple questions:-
1. Did you vote in the by-election? [Possible answers YES/ NO/ DON’T KNOW]
2. Can you yourself read and understand the voting form? [Possible answers YES/ NO/ DON’T KNOW]
3. Did you fill-in the voting form yourself [Possible answers YES/ NO/ DON’T KNOW]
4. Do you know the name of the person voted for? [Possible answers YES/ NO/ DON’T KNOW]
5. Do you know what Party was voted for? [Possible answers YES/ NO/ DON’T KNOW]
6. Did you return the voting envelops yourself? Can you read and understand the voting form? [Possible answers YES/ NO/ DON’T KNOW]
The answers will give a clear indication if anything untoward was going on, won’t it