Steve Baker MP: There is widespread abuse of postal votes, this simply cannot go on
My constituents would be shocked if they knew the extent of corrupt election practices and voter fraud, if we fail to understand the magnitude of this, then we are a politically bankrupt nation, writes Steve Baker MP.
I believe the overwhelming majority of my constituents would be shocked if they knew the extent of corrupt election practices and voter fraud which happen each time there is an election. I want open and lawful elections, upholding the principle that every entitled voter should have one vote, and cast it freely.
It is to ensure those who govern are properly democratically accountable for what they do. There can be no question of disenfranchising anyone, nor of constraining legitimate political discourse. Since the legitimacy of political power rests on the consent of the public, expressed at the ballot box, action is required.
When individual voter registration was introduced, it was expected it would remove the abuse of people registering at addresses where they were not entitled to do so, but I know of people who register to vote at different addresses in our town and then cast a vote in the same election more than once. In one instance we can evidence a man voted once in person and once by postal vote.
People living outside the constituency boundary will register to vote using friends’ and families’ address in order to support a particular candidate. We know of landlords who register to vote at properties which they own but where they do not reside. There are foreign nationals on the electoral roll living legally in the UK but who are not entitled to vote in UK elections. I am aware it is not an offence to be registered at two addresses, and in specimen cases where people have voted twice, we have reported them, but no prosecutions have followed.
There is widespread abuse of postal votes. In one case, private data held by a third party for legitimate purposes was used to apply for postal votes, and then intercepted before electors had a chance to complete them. The victims would not make a formal complaint as they feared retribution.
I have received accounts of candidates visiting electors’ homes, demanding postal votes are completed in front of them, and then taking them away. I have testimony of one young woman’s unmarked postal vote being taken off her under duress by a relative and handed to a candidate. We learned about it because she wanted to cancel her postal vote so she could cast it again herself.
We cannot assume voters enjoy secrecy and freedom when marking a ballot paper at home. Only last week my agent reported to the Police evidence of the harvesting of postal votes.
We have received reports that activists working on behalf of particular candidates have sought to precure votes for as little as £10, a free taxi or a free pizza. There are instances of people impersonating others and voting at polling stations in their place. Again, we know some of these cases have been reported to the Police without prosecution taking place
This simply cannot go on.
Votes are being cast which ought not to be cast. Votes which ought to be cast are being cast by those who ought not to cast them. Votes are being cast in particular ways as a result of inducement and intimidation. The law is often very clear – one may not offer a pizza in return for a vote. It is not, however, clear to me that appropriate gravity is applied to each and every vote. When one vote is stolen, or otherwise corrupted away, it’s not just a pencil mark on a piece of paper but is the inheritance of a tradition of liberty and equality fought for at great cost and handed down over centuries. If we fail to understand the magnitude of the importance of the corruption of even a single vote, then we are a politically bankrupt nation.
Steve Baker is a Member of Parliament for Wycombe and Conservative.