Electoral Commission boss faces fight for job after claims of fraud

Flaws in the postal voting system allow fraud on 'an industrial scale', say members of the judiciary

The head of Britain's election's watchdog faces a fight to keep her job following allegations of voting fraud set to mar today's local and mayoral elections.

The Independent understands that members of the committee who appointed Jenny Watson as head of the Electoral Commission are so concerned about her performance they want her to be challenged for the role.

The development comes as:

* A senior member of the judiciary claims that flaws in the postal voting system allows fraud to take place "on an industrial scale".

* More allegations of corruption were uncovered in Tower Hamlets as the police prepare to man polling stations in the east London borough today.

* The Electoral Commission became embroiled in a war of words with senior Government ministers over their handling of the fraud allegations. The Housing Minister Grant Shapps accused the Commission of being "complacent".

Ms Watson's job came under scrutiny at a meeting of House of Commons Speaker's Committee in March.

Her four-year term as head of the Commission expires at the end of the year and she would normally be considered for automatic re-appointment.

But in a "stormy" meeting some committee members, with tacit Government support, are believed to have challenged the proposal – suggesting she must face external competition.

The approved minutes reveal that the committee decided to "require an appraisal of Jenny Watson's performance" before considering whether she should be re-appointed.

The challenge reflects a concern among ministers about Ms Watson's performance. One source said: "At every count the Electoral Commission tries to wash its hands of responsibility and that is not satisfactory. Many questions need to be answered not least about Ms Watson's leadership."

Last week Mr Shapps became the first Government minister to publicly criticise the Commission when he accused it of being "complacent" about the electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets.

"They have not done enough," he said yesterday. "There's a sense of complacency that has run through this. There were complaints in February from Labour MPs in Tower Hamlets, and yet they did nothing. It is only when exposed by the newspapers, they've chosen to call in the police."

But in a letter to Mr Shapps, Ms Watson hit back saying the Government had not implemented its suggestion to make voters show ID at polling stations.

In Tower Hamlets yesterday, The Independent visited addresses where several postal votes had been requested for today's election. One man, who said he lived alone, found four names had been added to his address on the electoral register.

Peter Golds, a Tory councillor in Tower Hamlets, has forwarded his own dossier of evidence to the Electoral Commission in which he identifies a number of flats in the area where he believes fraud has taken place.

"The problem is, the police don't take allegations of electoral fraud seriously enough," he said. "There are few officers who are well versed in electoral law and they don't know where to begin."

Andrew Scallan, director of electoral administration at the Commission, said: "The Electoral Commission works closely with local authorities and the police to make sure they have robust systems in place to prevent and detect electoral fraud. But more needs to be done to strengthen the system."

Voting fraud: A brief history

Northampton 1768

Three earls famously spent more than £100,000 each to ensure their candidate won Northampton. The behaviour of the Earls of Northampton, Halifax and Spencer led to widespread disgust and eventual reform on the amount of money rich patrons could spend on a seat.

Old Sarum

Few constituencies summed up the "rotten borough" better than Old Sarum, an uninhabited hill with one tree on the outskirts of Salisbury that elected two members of Parliament. It was eventually abolished with 57 other rotten boroughs in the Reform Act of 1832.

Northern Ireland

Electoral fraud was so rampant in the early 20th century that the famous phrase "vote early, vote often" became folklore.

Postal fraud

Since postal votes were introduced widely in 2001, allegations of fraud have been rife. In 2005 a judge in Birmingham said there was "massive, systematic and organised fraud" in Asian communities. In 2010 five men from Bradford, including two ex-councillors, were jailed for fraudulently trying to get a Conservative candidate elected.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Recruitment Genius: HR Recruitment Advisor

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of children's ser...

Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones