Tuesday, 8 April 2008

How to rig an election - your contributions welcome

Up until September 2006, I worked for the Electoral Reform Society - sometimes known as the provisional wing of the Liberal Democrats. One of the major accomplishments whilst I worked there was the transformation from a very niche pressure group which only talked about STV to a well-respected organisation which was happy to provide neutral briefings on all aspects of elections and voting. Clearly our raison d'etre remained advocacy of a fairer method of election and STV in particular. But we were happy to give informed comment on any aspect of the process.

One of the areas on which I led was electoral fraud. There had always been rumours of (and sometimes prosecutions for) attempts to illegally fix the polls. But during the period from around 2000 until now, there have been more and more cases where it appears as though elections have actually been rigged.

Perhaps the most famous case was that in the Aston and Bordesley Green wards in Birmingham. This was the case where the judge described the UK system as being one which would shame a banana republic and which saw four Labour councillors convicted (one was subsequently cleared on appeal).

However, this is not simply a matter where Labour are guilty. I was an expert witness in a case in London in which Lib Dem and Conservative candidates were accused.

Whilst working for ERS, I proposed a seminar to point out just how open to abuse the UK system was - and still is. It was to run under the title of 'How to rig an election'. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my boss shied away from such an event (and certainly from the title). But as I don't work for ERS any more, I am going to revive the concept and write an essay showing just how easy it is for elections in the UK to be rigged. The essay will look at those areas we know about and those where we only suspect that things can go awry.

Naturally this is a touchy subject. There are those who will suggest that an essay such as this will aid and abet criminal activity. Well, possibly. But I think I'll only be pulling together ideas which are already known about within political circles. And as the Government seems determined to avoid taking any action to really tackle the problem...

So this is where you come in, dear reader. I would like your experiences and even conspiracy theories. Tell me how open to abuse you think that the UK electoral system is and give me practical examples of what could go wrong. Feel free to email me - alexfolkes at gmail dot com - all information I receive will be held in confidence. And if you wish to keep the names and parties of those involved in past activities secret then feel free to do so. This is not a witch hunt going after particular groups or parties. What I want to show is how the system is failing.

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