Fraud claims put postal voting on trial


In the Lyttelton Theatre, Birmingham, an extraordinary court is hearing two cases which have the potential to undermine confidence that voting in this country is fair.

Sitting in surroundings where Mozart and Haydn are more familiar sounds, a special election court - the first to investigate fraud for a century - has spent the past week hearing petitions alleging "corrupt and illegal" misuse of postal votes by Labour supporters during last June's council elections.

One case has been brought by a small, largely Kashmiri local group, the People's Justice party, which claims that 1,500 people had their votes stolen in Birmingham's Bordesley Green ward. In that contest the PJP was narrowly beaten by three Labour candidates.

A case brought by the Liberal Democrats against Labour councillors in Aston ward began yesterday. The court heard claims that these councillors had operated a "vote-forging factory" to ensure they were returned.

Muhammad Afzal, Mohammed Islam and Mohammed Kazi, who represent Aston for Labour on Birmingham council, were allegedly caught in a warehouse two days before the election completing hundreds of ballot papers.

Neither case has concluded and all six councillors deny they had any knowledge of or consented to corruption. But the evidence raised questions about the rapid growth of postal voting in Britain.

On Monday John Owen, the head of Birmingham's election office, told the court how his unit had struggled to cope with 70,000 applications for postal votes. A forensics expert said 80% of the 200 samples from the contested votes he analysed appeared to be fraudulent.

Until now, except in the "bad old days" in Northern Ireland ("vote early and often," quipped the dark humourists), fraud has not been a serious issue in British elections.

What has changed things is an effort by politicians to re-engage disaffected voters, especially young ones. In 2001 election law was changed to allow people to apply for postal votes without giving reasons.

On Tuesday the judge overseeing the case, Richard Mawrey QC, disclosed that he was broadening his inquiry to take in the whole of the city. And there are fears that Birmingham is not an isolated case: inquiries are under way in several areas. This week a former Labour councillor in Lancashire was found guilty of rigging an election.

The Birmingham court heard that the alleged forgers chose names from the electoral roll, which is publicly available, and applied for postal votes under those names, giving the addresses of houses where the votes could be collected, filled in and returned.

Saima Ishaq told the court that when on June 10 last year she went to her polling station she was told she could not vote because a postal vote had already been recorded in her name.

Ms Ishaq later discovered that her vote had been diverted without her permission to a flat she did not know in another part of the city.

The flat appears several times on the list of postal applications. It is on a nondescript street stretching south-east from Birmingham city centre through Sparkbrook, just across from Bordesley Green. Sandwiched between shops is a door opening on to a dark alleyway, at the end of which are two rented flats.

When the Guardian visited this week, a man who rents one of the flats said he had no knowledge of postal votes and had moved in last year. "I'll be honest with you, I get my post stolen all the time," he said.

According to Raghib Ahsan, the secretary of the PJP, the battle to control the city lies at the root of the cases. Labour considered Birmingham "a jewel in the crown", he says. "They were very nervous and were prepared to do anything to win it."

Labour declines to comment while the case is ongoing. Before the case began in February, the party withdrew legal support from the six councillors accused and said the behaviour of some activists "may have fallen short of the high standards that the electors have the right to expect".

The Electoral Commission has been monitoring the situation and is recommending reforms, including individual registration so that signatures can be checked against the ones on the ballot. It also wants fraud on ballot applications and "personation" to be made specific offences.

John Hemming, a Lib Dem councillor, claims the cases are the tip of the iceberg. "Fraud is endemic in many cities. If people are really desperate to win the election then they will try anything."

The case in Bordesley Green was adjourned on Tuesday and is expected to resume after the petition brought in Aston ward has been heard. If fraud is found, both elections will be rerun.

Is this becoming a habit? Please see links below for the previous stories on vote fraud by labour officials[/quote]

It's going to get better shortly

"If I'm going down, I'm taking some of you with me" :D
typical reaction from a left winger when caught with their pants down.

"It wasnt me, big boys did it and ran away!!" :twisted:
Further insight into the vote tigging scandal

Three Labour councillors in Birmingham were caught operating a "vote-rigging factory", an Election Court has heard.

Police found the trio handling unsealed postal ballots in a deserted warehouse in the city during a late-night raid in June 2004, the hearing was told.

The votes were later counted towards that month's English local elections.

The men, elected to the Aston ward, deny collecting votes fraudulently. The judge presiding has indicated the whole postal voting system is under scrutiny.

Deputy High Court Judge Richard Mawrey, QC told the hearing at the Birmingham and Midlands Institute the case could have potentially serious consequences for any forthcoming General Election.
Even further revelations.

this time the presiding judge has condemed the use of postal votes as 'an invitation to fraud'

A High Court judge yesterday condemned the current postal voting system as "an open invitation to fraud", weeks before the system is to be used in a general election.

Richard Mawrey, who is presiding over allegations of vote rigging by six Labour candidates in last year's local elections in Birmingham, said, regardless of the outcome of the case, he had heard enough to conclude the current system was far from secure. "If I come to the conclusion that all the respondents in both cases were entirely innocent, I would not neglect to point out the law as it stands is an open invitation to fraud," he said. "I could not come to any other conclusion."

Yesterday was the last day of the long-running hearing, in which the six Labour councillors returned in the Aston and Bordersley Green wards of Birmingham were accused of rigging 2,500 votes to ensure that they were elected. Jerry Hayes, representing two of the Aston councillors, Mohammad Kazi and Mohammad Islam, told the hearing yesterday how the poll had been conducted in an atmosphere of "mutual loathing" between Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters.

He accused the petitioners, the Liberal Democrats, of pursuing a smear campaign against the opposition and said they had brought no evidence of wrongdoing against either of his clients.

Mr Hayes said Liberal Democrat activists had been "up to their elbows in mischief and skullduggery".

He made reference to a Liberal Democrat election handbook which he said urged activists to "be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly and attack the administration".

The case was brought after police raided a warehouse at midnight on the eve of the election to find the Aston councillors and their supporters sitting at a table surrounded by postal ballots. The Liberal Democrats accused them of running a "vote rigging factory".

Mr Hayes said yesterday that what happened at the warehouse was "suspicious but it has to be more than suspicious".

He said: "What evidence have we got from the police there was any criminal act taking place? None. Anything else is supposition."

Mr Mawrey will present his findings on April 4.

This date exceeds the March 30 deadline for a fresh election, meaning that even if the judge decides to declare the previous one void, a new one cannot be organised to coincide with the anticipated general election.

It also emerged that West Midlands police were investigating allegations that witness statements in support of the Liberal Democrats were fraudulent.

Mr Mawrey said that an inquiry would not affect his judgment, as he had a number of statements that had been proven to be genuine.

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