Tag Archives: jenny watson

Electoral Commission imposes voting limits to avoid repeat of polling station queues

A limit on the maximum number of people eligible to vote at a polling station has been imposed by the Electoral Commission under the powers given to its Chief Executive, Jenny Watson, to run the AV referendum in May.

Under the law for referendums, Jenny Watson is the Chief Counting Officer and thereby able to issue instructions as to how the vote should be conducted around the country. Because the referendum is being held on the same day as other elections, many of those instructions in effect also apply to the other elections as well.

One of these is the instruction that …

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Electoral Commission’s verdict: electoral fraud is not a serious problem

The Electoral Commission has published the results of its third survey of reports of electoral fraud and other malpractice, this time covering the 2010 general and local elections and for the first time including data for every police force. Commenting on the findings, Electoral Commission Chair, Jenny Watson, said:

There was some high profile reporting of alleged electoral malpractice around the elections and perceptions of fraud continue to be a concern to voters. Yet these figures do not support the more pessimistic perceptions: there’s no evidence of widespread attempts to commit electoral fraud, or of election results being called into question. It is important the public have accurate information on electoral malpractice and I would like to thank police forces across the UK for proving the data to make this analysis possible.

It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point and no one should be complacent about the risks at the elections and referendums this year. We continue to work closely with the police, elections staff, the Royal Mail and political parties to ensure the threat of electoral malpractice is reduced, and we’ve seen examples of excellent joint working between police forces and electoral administration teams.

The UK Government’s commitment to introducing individual electoral registration will be another important measure to help tighten up the democratic process. The next step is for them to consider introducing the requirement for ID at polling stations in Great Britain, as is already the case in Northern Ireland. We’ve raised this in our report after the UK Parliamentary General Election and asked Government to lead the debate.

Electoral fraud 2010 report front coverThe reference to showing ID at polling stations reflects increasing concerns over impersonation at polling stations in the last few years, partly as a result of many of the easy ways of carrying out postal vote fraud having been curtailed by changes in the rules.

Overall the Electoral Commission found that 232 cases of alleged malpractice were reported to the police as a result of the May 2010 elections, with the police deciding in 137 cases that no further action was required.

So far two cases have been to court (one conviction and a fine of £200, one acquittal), two cases saw police cautions issued and 23 were concluded with the police giving informal advice short of a caution. The other 68 cases are either still with the police or awaiting decisions by prosecutors.

These apparently comforting figures have been attacked by some as showing undue complacency by the Electoral Commission:

Critics have attacked the report as a whitewash, stating that the lack of successful prosecutions simply highlights how difficult it can be to investigate voting irregularities.

Rob Hoveman, an election agent for the Respect Party, which claimed postal-ballot rigging was commonplace in East London, said: “The fact is that it remains very easy for votes to be cast through personation, for false voters to be registered and, above all, for undue, inappropriate and illegal pressure to be applied in the casting of postal votes through the postal vote on demand system.”

He added: “Just because a crime hasn’t been prosecuted doesn’t mean a crime didn’t take place.” (The Independent)

In addition to these concerns over whether particular problem areas exist which need more effective action, the details of some cases which were not pursued suggest that there is more going wrong than the number of successful prosecutions indicates. The Electoral Commission’s report gives this example from Peterborough:

Initially, Peterborough City Council followed robust sifting procedures of several hundred applications to register to vote and to vote by post. Following this, 150 applications were identified as high risk and referred to Cambridgeshire Constabulary for further investigation.

A man was identified to have delivered the applications to the City Council. He was subsequently arrested and his computer equipment was seized from his home address.

He denied any knowledge or involvement concerning fraudulent voting applications and summarised his involvement as being a delivery driver for the Conservative Association. He freely admitted handling the applications and denied any knowledge as to how they were constructed. Low level enquiries were completed with the Conservative Association to identify the existence of reliable third party evidence that might identify those involved but none was found.

The defendant was bailed to allow the examination of his computers to identify the existence of source documents (tenancy agreements in particular) which may have been used in support of false applications and to complete an identification procedure involving potential witnesses. Both these lines of enquiry were negative and no further action was taken against him.

A joint decision was made by Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire Constabulary that, as no person appeared to have been denied their right to vote in the 6 May elections nor any suspect identified, no further investigation would be carried out. Furthermore, no further referrals, intelligence or complaints, were received by Peterborough City Council or Cambridgeshire Constabulary in relation to allegations of electoral fraud.

Analysis of cases of alleged electoral malpractice in 2010

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Good news as Electoral Commission decides to preserve local donation records

The Electoral Commission is plugging a gap in the record of political donations following a decision to change its policy on retaining copies of constituency candidate expense returns.

Donations made direct to a candidate (rather than to their party) are only recorded in these constituency returns and do not appear in the donation records published by the Electoral Commission. However, in previous Parliaments both the local copies of these returns kept by electoral officials and the copies gathered in by the Electoral Commission were destroyed after a handful of years. This meant that even before the next general election was held, …

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Labour to oppose voting reform legislation

The Labour shadow cabinet has decided to vote against the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, insisting that it should not be given a second reading.

From the Press Association,

Labour is to vote against legislation paving the way for a referendum on reforming the voting system.

The shadow cabinet decided to oppose the Government’s Bill because it also includes provisions for equalising the size of constituencies.

The move sets the stage for a major test of the coalition, with Labour MPs lining up alongside rebel Tories in a bid to derail the proposals.

The commitment to a referendum on switching to Alternative

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Weekend voting gets another push from Jenny Watson

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Electoral Commission chair Jenny Watson repeated the Commission’s interest in seeing a switch to weekend voting:

Flexible election schedules, including opening the polls for entire weekends, should be considered to make the system more relevant to 21st century life, she said.

These comments echo strong public support for weekend voting, support from a Liberal Democrat front bencher, Lord (Chris) Rennard, and previous Electoral Commission statements.

In the interview, Jenny Watson also gave her support to the much more controversial issue of looking again at online voting, expressed doubts about how many general …

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Labour Party under fire for breaking Code of Conduct on postal voting

The Electoral Commission’s report into the November 2009 Parliamentary by-election in Glasgow North East has condemned the Labour Party for breaking the Code of Conduct on postal voting, saying the party repeatedly failed to process postal vote forms promptly.

The Code allows parties to distribute to the public forms for signing up to postal votes and to have them returned to a party address. This makes sense in circumstances such as the forms being in with a mailing which also asks for donations to the campaign where giving two different return addresses could result in items going to the wrong place and council staff having to send on political donations to the right address.

However, to guard against misuse the Code – whose provisions the Labour Party has been consulted on annually and each year said it consents to – requires such forms to be passed on by a political party within two working days of receipt.

In Glasgow North East this deadline was broken by the Labour Party and the Electoral Commission says that, “When the Commission reported the concerns that the party had unduly delayed the return of applications for postal votes to the ERO, his staff undertook a spot-check of those applications and discovered that more than 100 forms had been signed and dated by the elector more than a week earlier, and in some cases, more than one month earlier.”

The Labour Party has however defended its actions, with The Guardian reporting that, “The commission’s conclusions were vigorously challenged by the Labour party, which will be asking the commission to justify its report’s conclusions, a spokesman disclosed. He said the report had ignored the significant impact on the delivery of postal vote applications by the postal strike, which had seriously affected every party’s campaign, despite this being highlighted in meetings between Labour and commission officials.”

The Commission was also critical of the long delay by Labour before calling the by-election. “The procedures for calling a by-election are complex and in this instance led to voters being without an MP for nearly five months,” said Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission. “The Electoral Commission believes the UK Parliament should consider how long a Westminster seat should be able to remain vacant to ensure voters can elect a new MP in a timely way.”

You can read the full report here:

Glasgow North East By-Election: Electoral Commission Report

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Jenny Watson responds to criticism of her speech

On Tuesday evening I blogged about the speech given by Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, criticising her comments about turnout in British elections:

I was rather surprised at the introduction to your speech earlier today to the UCL Constitution Unit where you painted what seems to me a very misleading picture of what is happening to turnout in British elections.

I appreciate that is a fairly strong criticism, so I hope you won’t mind me justifying it by taking parts of your speech and commenting on them in detail.

You can read my detailed comments in the original

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The Electoral Commission gets it wrong on turnout

Here’s the email I’ve sent to Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission:

Dear Jenny Watson,

I was rather surprised at the introduction to your speech earlier today to the UCL Constitution Unit where you painted what seems to me a very misleading picture of what is happening to turnout in British elections.

I appreciate that is a fairly strong criticism, so I hope you won’t mind me justifying it by taking parts of your speech and commenting on them in detail.

After talking about recent political scandals, you said:

One of the immediate measures of the impact of these events is turnout at the recent elections. Turnout for the European elections across the UK was just 34 per cent, against a European average of 43 per cent.

However, turnout in the UK has been lower than the European average in every European election since and including the first one in 1979. The mere fact of it being lower again does not tell us about the “impact of these events”.

The one piece of evidence you present on that is wrong, for you say:

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