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
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Early Years Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Early Years supply teachers neede...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

KS2 Teacher required from October

£90 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Hull: Key Stage 2 Supply Teacher requ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor