Mary Dejevsky: A little voter fraud goes a long way

Related Topics

There's something delightfully quaint about voting in Britain: the makeshift notices that appear overnight, the empty school halls where assembly was held only the day before; the tumbledown booths, the ballot-boxes that look like supermarket surplus, and those inimitable period pieces – the little pencils on string. They were all there yesterday, in their accustomed place, when I went to perform my civic duty. There was also something I don't recall from previous occasions: a queue – which was consoling if you regard turn-out as a gauge of democratic engagement.

But I wonder how long one rather admirable feature of British elections will, or indeed should, endure: the absence of any check on identity. The reason I ask is the proliferation of fraud allegations before the vote. This is not the first time, of course, that the integrity of the ballot has come under suspicion in some constituencies. Ever since 2004, when the New Labour government decided that making it easier to vote could increase what threatened to be a shamingly low turn-out, and gave postal vote to pretty much anyone who asked, the potential for fraud has increased.

It would not take great ingenuity to abuse the system. Many people, including students, have more than one address. How good are the checks that someone votes only once? When the registration forms come round, or some time later, you might add someone to your household tally: someone, perhaps, who is not entitled to vote; someone, even, who does not exist. You might then intercept the real or fraudulent postal ballots and put the crosses where you want them to go. This is hardly hi-tech, but not always easy to detect either. The judge in a celebrated case in Birmingham five years ago spoke of practices that would "disgrace a banana republic".

The official line is that accusations of electoral fraud are taken very seriously. I remain to be convinced. Jenny Watson, the head of the Electoral Commission, the watchdog appointed by Parliament, was on Newsnight earlier this week. It seemed to me not only that she was given an unnecessarily easy ride, but that she wasn't nearly as concerned about the allegations as I would have hoped someone in her position to be. Indeed, she seemed – in a phrase likely to go out of use from today, so let's give it one last whirl – "intensely relaxed" about what might be going on. If the watchdog isn't too worried, why should the rest of us be?

There seems to be especial sensitivity about addressing fraud allegations in areas with a large Muslim population, even though it is in areas such as Tower Hamlets, where such allegations are routinely concentrated – and where The Independent's reporter was attacked following up this story earlier this week. Yet how difficult can it be for councils to monitor new and last-minute applications from one address? Why not a mechanism that estimates how many adults are likely to reside at a particular house or flat and triggers further enquiry if that number is exceeded? If that is against the Data Protection Act, you can bet the big supermarkets and internet shopping sites have something similar stashed away.

Yes, it was splendid that there was a late surge in registrations this year, largely, it is thought, thanks to the first televised debate. That is a thoroughly positive development. But the integrity of the vote must be protected. Even a whiff of fraud compromises the whole process.

Elephants on parade

Two baby elephants have just appeared, guarding the Albert Memorial in Kensington; there is a colourful little coterie in front of Nelson's column, and another pair has materialised at Hyde Park Corner. They are among the 260 fibre glass elephants, painted and decorated, that comprise what is said to be the largest exhibition of outdoor art the city has ever hosted. It's not the first such event, though. London had a cow parade in 2002, as did Manchester two years later. And such parades have become set-pieces of the modern city, rather as annual marathon races have done.

By accident rather than design, I have become a bit of an aficionado of such animal parades, having been in Chicago for one of the earliest cow parades in 1999, and in Berlin for the bear parade of 2002. And you could dismiss the whole enterprise as a bit silly and a bit trite, and a bit hard on the civic purse, too. But just glimpse a few of these beasts, judiciously sited, and I defy you not to melt. The first London elephants had scarcely been hauled into position than they were being patted, photographed, and clambered over by excited children, and everyone was smiling. Once it's over, they will all be auctioned – in aid of the endangered Asian elephant. What more could a city want in summer?

A better class of B&B

Wilton Park, in West Sussex, is set in the sort of countryside that draws gasps from foreign visitors. It is exactly as they imagine England, only more so. As you drive in the outer gate, a flight of pheasant ascends in your path; a luxuriant red fox crosses the road; snow-white lambs gambol in the green-green fields; and the age-old trees whisper. By night, the stars seem so close that you could touch them.

Wilton Park hosts conferences for the Foreign Office, but it will now hold hotel-type weekends, in response to requests from nostalgic conference-goers – offering what you might call conferences without the conference. Nor is it alone. Oxford and Cambridge colleges are now to offer B&B in vacations when they have no conferences. And why not? Others with distinguished buildings will surely follow suit.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before