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Fri, 27 November 2020

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Experts Say Donald Trump's Baseless Claims Of Voter Fraud Won't Slow The Rise Of Postal Voting In The UK

Experts Say Donald Trump's Baseless Claims Of Voter Fraud Won't Slow The Rise Of Postal Voting In The UK

Voters in Iowa have their say on the new US President

6 min read

It seems hardly believable that more than a week after Americans had their say on the next President of the United States, some votes were still yet to be counted.

To many onlookers across the Atlantic, the US electoral system is impossibly complex, with different states adhering to rules as varied as their geography. 

But the issue at the heart of the dramatic power struggle between President Elect Joe Biden and his unwilling-to-concede predecessor Donald Trump - one which looks set to ensure one the messiest White House handovers in history - is clear.  

Outgoing president Mr Trump has criticised the expansion of mail-in ballots - turnout among which largely favoured his Democrat rival in key battleground states - claiming an increase in voter fraud led to the 2020 election being "stolen".

And while there is little to no evidence of such an occurance, a large chunk of Mr Trump's supporters have accepted his claims as fact, with a growing mistrust of the officials in charge of the counting process, as his legal teams launch a series of court actions.

The UK has its own batch of significant elections next spring, with the delayed London Mayoral vote set to take place, as well as the Senedd elections in Wales and local council polls across the country. 

While hope of a widely-available coronavirus vaccine was given a huge boost this week after multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer revealed its trials had been 90% effective against the disease, some restrictions are likely to still be in place when thousands of Brits cast their votes. 

"So far we've been given very little steer on how things will function, but it seems many authorities have been making plans for an all-postal ballot," one Labour insider told PoliticsHome. 

"To be honest I don't think that's where things will go - many councils are just being proactive.  But I think there will definitely be a much bigger postal vote element. 

"There's no way polling day can function as it normally does, because you're effectively organising and encouraging super spreader events."

The party is "driving people towards" postal voting in the capital, with many arguing Labour stands to gain the most from the approach. 

"Postal votes basically won us the Peterborough by-election and it won the Lib Dems the Eastleigh by-election," said one source. 

"But the success varies massively depending on the sort of organisation on the ground in any given area."

Cambridgeshire Police investigated five claims of malpratice during the Peterborough by-election last year, but concluded no criminal activity had taken place and the allegations were unfounded.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was among those who claimed postal voting - which accounted for nearly 10,000 of the 33,998 ballots counted - had returned the "wrong result" in the constituency. 

So, if the proportion of votes cast by post increases in 2021, could a spike in such allegations follow?

Ali Goldsworthy, chief exeuctive of the US-based Depolarization Project and former vice chair of the Federal Executive of the Liberal Democrats, is unconvinced. 

"The incentive to follow Donald Trump in making these claims of electoral fraud is not going to be strong, because ultimately he is going to lose," she told PoliticsHome. 

"Postal voting has been increasing in the UK on the whole anyway and the trend has been upwards for a long period - particuarly after the legislation around requesting a postal vote changed to make it easier. Thirty years ago you had to have a reason and now you can just ask for one.

"In many ways, the increase is a positive thing because it makes voting easier for people and on the whole, most parties are pretty good about it. It also makes it easier for people in places like care homes to vote too."

The UK's "cultural norms" around election campaigning mean claims of fraud are much less likely to stack up, Ms Goldsworthy said. 

"While electoral agents in the US are often partisan appointments, that is just not the case in the UK," she added.

"On the whole, returning officers are unsung heroes. My experience of working with them is that they have always been determined to maintain integrity in the process and ensure as many people as possible can vote." 

While there are fears social media could fuel misinformation around any changes to voting processes, Ms Goldsworthy said private communications, such as emails and text messages, could be where potential danger lies. 

"Social media is a very convenient bad guy, but the reality is the likes of Twitter and Facebook have got much better at stopping disinformation and misinformation.  

"But we've seen from the Trump campaign that private communications allow for the sending of numerous unfettered emails if people are signed up.  Email is quite a boring subject to talk about, but there’s a reason people keep targeting this way.

"You raise more money and it's better at generating actions than a Facebook post or seeing a media report.  So that's where I'd be more concerned."

The Electoral Commission, the organisation in charge of elections in the UK, has carried out research which suggests people are likely to want to continue to vote in person.

But absent voting gives voters choice, so is likely to play an important role in delivering elections during the pandemic, said Ailsa Irvine, director of electoral administration and guidance.

“Voting by post in the UK is safe, and there are measures in place to ensure this," she added.

"Voters have to give their date of birth and signature to their local authority when applying for a postal vote. The date of birth and signature on the returned postal ballot pack is then checked against the details held by the local authority, in order to confirm the voter’s identity. This information is separate from the ballot paper, and therefore does not affect the secrecy of the vote."

The commission published data collected from police forces across the UK about alleged electoral fraud cases earlier this year.

It showed that cases are rare and that in 2019,  of the 592 cases of alleged electoral fraud investigated by the police, only three led to a conviction, and one person was given a caution.

“We take allegations of fraud very seriously, and we work closely with electoral administrators to offer them the guidance they need, and make sure they have arrangements in place with their local police force to respond to any allegations of fraud," Ms Irvine said. 

"We also work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to provide guidance and support to police forces. Ahead of the May 2021 polls, we will also be running a campaign in partnership with Crimestoppers, to make sure people know how to protect their vote.”

Those who want to apply for a postal or proxy vote should apply now, the commission said, to ensure demand is met.

"This will make sure the application is processed early, and the postal vote can be sent to them more quickly once the candidates for the elections are confirmed," Ms Irvine added.

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