European Parliament Election: Police stationed outside voting booths in ‘high risk’ areas over fears of voter intimidation and fraud
Includes every single station in London borough of Tower Hamlets
As Britain went to the polls today to vote in the European and local elections, a worrying increase in voter intimidation and fraud resulted in an unprecedented police presence in areas across the UK identified as “high risk”.
Officers were stationed at every one of the 125 polling stations in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, it was reported, in the wake of a “breakdown of trust” between the public and election officials in the past.
Sky News reported that, in all, 16 areas of the country had been identified by the Electoral Commission as having the potential for problems. They included parts of Birmingham, Peterborough, Burnley and Blackburn.
Large groups of party supporters will be stopped from gathering outside polling stations, police said, in attempts to prevent voters being intimidated on their way to booths.
Polling officers in the “high risk” areas have been given additional training, and postal votes are also being closely monitored against other council records.
John Williams, the returning officer for Tower Hamlets, said: “We want to encourage people to use their democratic right to vote. Postal votes are a legitimate way of ensuring those who cannot get to polling stations can have their voice and choice heard.
“But we are also determined to tackle fraud robustly, which is why we have been working closely with the police and the Electoral Commission to maintain the integrity of the elections.”
Speaking to the Telegraph, a council spokesperson said that she was not aware of such a full-scale police presence ever being used in the borough before.
A council spokeswoman said: “We are going to have police officers at all of our 125 polling stations for the whole 15 hours of the poll, which is from 7am until 10pm.
“It is part of efforts we have been making to ensure free and fair elections and make sure we have the most robust procedures in place to make sure the election runs smoothly.
“We are keen to make sure that nobody is intimidated and everybody is free to go in and cast their vote.”
The UK was tasked today with returning 73 members for the European Parliament, as well as selecting candidates for more than 4,000 council seats across 161 English local authorities. Northern Ireland also staged its local elections today.
Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will await the impact of the Ukip-effect as voters go to the polls following a campaign dominated by Nigel Farage's Eurosceptic party.
Ed Miliband, who had a difficult last few days in the Labour campaign this week, said he was nonetheless feeling “very good” as he cast his votes at Sutton village hall in his Doncaster North constituency.
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, similarly replied that he was “very well, thanks” as he arrived to place his vote in Sheffield.
Yesterday, the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said she believed the party was “on track” to make gains today, with opinion polls suggesting the party could triple its number of MEPs from two to six.
And David Cameron tweeted a picture of himself walking out of a polling booth with wife Samantha, writing: “Vote Conservative for real change in Europe.”
A shock result in a poll by YouGov, commissioned for The Sun, projected yesterday that Ukip would win the European elections with 27 per cent of the vote, with the Lib Dems dropping down to fifth place.
Before casting his ballot, Mr Farage said: “If we get what we like, things will never be quite the same again.”
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