Judge quashes 'fraudulent' council elections

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The Independent Online

A High Court judge today launched a scathing attack on the current postal voting system after quashing the results of last year's elections in two wards on Birmingham City Council.

A High Court judge today launched a scathing attack on the current postal voting system after quashing the results of last year's elections in two wards on Birmingham City Council.

Richard Mawrey QC, sitting as an election commissioner, found six sitting Labour Party councillors in the Aston and Bordesley Green wards guilty of corrupt and illegal practices during June 10 poll.

The judge said at the hearing at the Birmingham and Midland Institute he was satisfied the fraud was "overwhelming" and had been orchestrated by local party officials.

Mr Mawrey said evidence of "massive, systematic and organised fraud" in the campaign had made "a mockery" of the election.

The judge said the system was "hopelessly insecure" and expressed regret that recent warnings about the failings had been dismissed by the Government as "scaremongering".

Reading from the executive summary of his judgment to a packed court, the judge said: "This system is wide open to fraud and any would-be political fraudster knows that it's wide open to fraud."

Speaking outside court, a spokesman for the People's Justice Party, the successful petitioners in the Bordesley Green ward, called for postal voting to be outlawed at the forthcoming General Election.

The PJP spokesman said: "We have won justice for our party and for the people of Bordesley Green.

"We welcome the judge's decision and the chance to fight new elections."

But he added: "The Commissioner has confirmed our fear that there is every likelihood that the forthcoming General Election will be blighted by postal vote fraud.

"Birmingham now has a huge number of people permanently registered for postal votes, many without their knowledge."

Postal voting on demand had undermined the principle of the secret ballot and public confidence in elections, the PJP spokesman claimed.

The judge ruled that not less than 1,500 and maybe more than 2,000 votes had been cast fraudulently in Bordesley Green.

The PJP spokesman continued: This is a truly shocking state of affairs and we hope that the perpetrators of the fraud will now be brought to account.

"The police should mount a thorough investigation into the vote rigging.

"We have uncovered further evidence and we are keen to help the police."

The Electoral Reform Society said today's judgment highlighted the need for urgent action to protect and maintain confidence in the voting system.

The organisation has been monitoring the current postal vote system since the decision to move to postal voting on demand five years ago.

A spokesman for the organisation said: "We welcome attempts to make voting more convenient for people accustomed to a modern lifestyle, but do not believe that such convenience should come at the expense of the security or privacy of the ballot.

"We accept postal voting as part of the modern electoral process, but we believe that it must be managed in an efficient manner with little risk of fraud.

"We do not believe that electoral fraud is confined to Birmingham, to the Labour Party or, most importantly, to particular communities."

Recent cases in Blackburn, Guildford and Hackney involving people from different backgrounds and different parties disprove the view that fraud was not widespread, the ERS believes.

The ERS spokesman said: "We are not alarmist and do not believe that the outcome of, say, the general election is likely to be seriously affected by fraud, but we are concerned that the cases which have come to the public's attention so far may be only part of a wider problem.

"We believe that urgent action must be taken."