An Electoral Commission report into the Glasgow North East by-election won by Labour has highlighted weaknesses in the current system and suggested that there was increased potential for electoral fraud involving postal votes.
The commission also criticised one party (thought to be Labour) over their submittance of postal votes. The commission found that of the 1780 postal votes that were handed in with just three days to go to the deadline almost half were handed in by the Labour party.
This contravened agreements drawn up in 2005 governing the holding of postal votes which state that a party should hold postal ballots no longer than two days a spot check carried out on the Labour postal votes revealed that many had been dated weeks earlier.
The commission also criticised the length of time the constituency had been left without political representation, with Labour’s delay in calling the by-election leaving the constituency without an MP for 4½ months.
The by-election, eventually won by Labour’s Willie Bain, was held on 12 November 2009 after the sitting Labour MP Michael Martin resigned on 22nd June following his role in the MP’s expenses scandal. The decision by Labour to delay the by-election by 4½ months brought stinging criticism from opposition parties including the SNP.
The Electoral Commission have added their own criticism and suggested that legislation be brought in to ensure that an electorate are never again denied representation for such an extended period and that an election be called within three months of a vacancy.
The commission also highlighted the number of people on the electoral register who were known not to be resident at the address given, saying:
“While 4,028 electors were added to the register, we believe that the current system allowed almost 1,900 electors to remain on the register even though a registration form had been returned which showed that those electors were no longer resident at an address in the constituency.”
Current legislation did not allow for the timely removal of such people and this said the commission meant that there was an increased potential for electoral fraud involving postal votes.
So concerned were the commission that they recommended that “The UK Government should consider appropriate legislative changes within the current framework and as part of the development of individual electoral registration.”
They also recommended that current legislation covering postal votes be changed. The law currently requires that Returning Officers check at least 20% of returned postal voting statements; the commission strongly advised that 100% personal identifier verification is needed to protect against voter fraud.
The report also confirmed that one allegation of personation (someone trying to vote using someone else’s name) is currently being investigated by Strathclyde Police.