Official: UK voting system "open to fraud"

by Stephen Tall on January 22, 2008

What has Europe ever done for us? Well, that question was partially answered today: it can expose the Labour Government’s connivance in creating a British electoral system which is open to fraud.

That was the startling conclusion of a report issued today by a committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, which states starkly:

it is clear that the electoral system in Great Britain is open to electoral fraud. This vulnerability is mainly the result of the, rather arcane, system of voter registration without personal identifiers. It was exacerbated by the introduction of postal voting on demand, especially under the arrangements as existed before the changes in the electoral code in 2006. The 2006 changes to the electoral code enhanced the security of the postal voting arrangements, but other shortcomings and vulnerabilities remain. Together with numerous British experts we strongly recommend to eliminate those.

… It should be stressed however, that the United Kingdom delivers democratic elections despite the vulnerabilities in its electoral system. These vulnerabilities could easily affect the overall democratic nature of future elections in Great Britain. The Monitoring Committee should, in its periodic reports on the honouring of commitments by member states, pay special attention to electoral issues in the United Kingdom and, if the vulnerabilities noted are found to undermine the overall democratic nature of future elections in Great Britain, apply to initiate a Monitoring procedure with respect to the United Kingdom.

I called the conclusions ‘startling’ – but, of course, they are not. The Liberal Democrats have been prominent in campaigning for improvements to voter registration, despite the often deaf ears of Labour ministers. The party’s chief executive, Chris Rennard, moved an amendment in the House of Lords in 2006 to help address some of the concerns today’s report has highlighted (you can read his speech here).

What is startling is how unsurprised we all are by the news, and, indeed, how little prominence is being given to it by the news media. Labour’s concern for the integrity of the democratic process is now so casual that this kind of evidence is regarded as little more than background noise.

The Lib Dems’ shadow Justice Secretary, David Heath, is absolutely right:

“We should be deeply ashamed that the United Kingdom, which throughout history has been seen as the cradle of parliamentary democracy, has been found so wanting by our international counterparts. The defects highlighted in the report, such as the fact it is ‘childishly simple’ to register bogus voters, were pointed out in recent legislation. However, the remedies suggested by the Liberal Democrats have been summarily rejected by this Government. For the sake of our democracy and our international reputation, ministers must now deal with the opportunities for abuse.”