MP calls for changes to postal voting system

Ballot box
Ballot box

PENDLE MP Andrew Stephenson has called for an immediate reform of the postal voting system - saying that electoral fraud is widespread in parts of the country.

Speaking during the Second Reading of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill on Wednesday, he said individual voter registration, which the Government is planning to introduce over the next few years, was long overdue.

He said: “The simple fact is, regardless of what the official statistics say, in parts of Britain, electoral fraud is widespread and has led to fraudulent election results. This is a disgrace and should be tackled immediately. Not in 2014 or 2015, but now.”

Mr Stephenson said his predecessor as Pendle MP, Labour’s Gordon Prentice, was a vocal supporter of individual voter registration, particularly when he found out that the Liberal Democrat candidate for the General Election had 27 registered voters living in a house of 44 people.

He said: “I know some members will raise their eyebrows at this, and this indeed was an exceptional case, however I can assure you that in parts of my constituency it is not uncommon for seven, eight or more voters to be registered as living in a terraced house and no checks are made.”

Mr Stephenson told the House how in a letter to the Electoral Commission last summer, Pendle Council’s Chief Executive Stephen Barnes described how “allegations and perceptions of malpractice around postal voting are seriously undermining public confidence in the whole electoral process” and expressed his own view that these concerns were fully justified, citing examples of probable malpractice and the difficulties in taking action.

Mr Stephenson went on: “In one ward, Reedley, the scale and impact of postal voting has been dramatic. I should declare an interest here. This was, or perhaps still is, without postal voting, a strong Conservative ward. Until last year all three councillors were Conservative. Now there is only one.

“In 2010, there were 800 postal votes issued in Reedley, in an election where 3,049 voted. The Conservative candidate secured 49% of the vote and was easily elected.

“In 2011 Reedley saw a 25% increase in postal votes and this year, a further increase of almost 25%. In two years, an extra 479 voters felt that they needed to vote by post. Virtually all were from the British Pakistani community and virtually all were signed up on to postal votes by the Labour Party.

“Not coincidentally, Labour candidates were elected on both occasions. The Conservative vote did not collapse. The Labour victory was not on trend across the constituency. Nonetheless, their support in Reedley rocketed.

“I accept that it is theoretically possible that local support for the Labour candidate did increase significantly, however the 45% increase in the Labour vote in 2011, against the backdrop of an 18% drop in turnout, and given the huge increase in postal votes that year as well as the allegations of malpractice maybe indicates that was not what really happened.

“It is not so much that the numbers do not add up, but rather that they do.

“In my view, the only sensible conclusion is to suspend postal voting by demand, reverting to postal and proxy votes being only available for people who genuinely need them and can provide a compelling reason why they cannot vote on the day.

“By doing so we would save a significant amount of money, which could be invested into funding better scrutiny of individual voter registration, and address the biggest area of fraud in our electoral system. This would disenfranchise no one and restore confidence in our democracy.”