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

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

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
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
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
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference