While we are preaching to the world that we are exporting democracy to the Middle East, our own alleged democracy is failing. The postal vote system, the preferred option of the Labour Party, has been thrown further into disrepute by the discovery of fraud.
A survey by the Crown Prosecution Service has confirmed there are 39 ongoing investigations into postal vote fraud, and a recent "YouGov" poll found that 64% of those polled agreed that postal voting should be stopped until security has been improved. Although questions were raised in Parliament, the government accidentally-on-purpose left it too late to take action. As early as 9 June 2004, the Times had published a report showing that all parties were breaching EU guidelines by collecting blank voting papers. A bill was planned to tighten up the regulation on postal votes, but Labour dumped it before it reached Parliament. The Electoral Commission has repeatedly called for individual registration to help to combat fraud, but their recommendations are often ignored by the Government.
Guidelines advise that "Because of the risks of suspicions that the application may be altered and the risk of the application form being delayed or lost in transit, the local electoral registration officer's address should be the preferred address given for the return of application forms." Despite this, MP's are still asking people to send their completed forms to their own offices and collecting blank ballots.
For example, Labour MP Oona King wrote a personal letter to constituents advising them to fill out and application form "and return it to me at the address shown…then you can vote from the comfort of your own home." Ms King is fighting the contentious London east seat against "Gorgeous George" Galloway of Respect. It is considered likely that a sizeable proportion of previously devout Labour voters will defect to Respect because of their disquiet about the Iraq war. This must make fraud a very tempting option.
The electoral services officer at Cardiff city council has already received reports that some residents feel "not exactly pressurised but heavily encouraged into applying for a postal vote and sending it through the party involved. We are not happy about it."
Now that it is too late to do anything about it, it has been announced that after the election the system will be changed.
Peter Hain Mp (Labour) tried to play down the risk of fraud, but his timing is pretty poor. Muhammed Hussain (Labour party councillor) has just been jailed for three years and seven months for rigging postal votes in a local council election in Blackburn, Lancashire.
Even more worrying was the discovery of organised fraud by six labour members in Liverpool. The judge noted that there were no realistic systems in place to detect or prevent postal voting fraud at the general election and the fraud in Liverpool had been perpetrated with full knowledge and cooperation of the local Labour party. He stated that the evidence of fraud that he had heard "would disgrace a banana republic". He accused the government of being not only complacent, but "in denial", about the problems in the system and noted that they may as well print "steal me" on the envelopes!
It is estimated that 6m of the total 44m votes in the upcoming election will be postal votes, but how many will be fraudulent?