Securing the ballot: Report of Sir Eric Pickles’ review into electoral fraud #1

As the very reason for LW existing is the blatant corruption of the previous Tower Hamlets Council administration we thought we would devote the resources of the entire editorial team to comprehensive coverage of the report of Sir Eric Pickles’ review into electoral fraud ‘Securing the ballot’.

The full report can be downloaded here (PDF) and in this post you will find the 50 recommendations by Sir Eric and his team, in the next post a few choice extracts of particular reference to our borough and of course all this in addition to our earlier news story.

Summary of Recommendations

R1. Greater powers should be given to Returning Officers and the police to take action to address unwanted behaviour in and around polling stations (e.g. to be able to set up Cordons Sanitaire and to ensure that the police have the powers they need to disperse and deal with people who are ‘causing a nuisance’ or ‘leading people to feel intimidated’ outside a polling station). Guidance should indicate where such a power could or should be used.

R2. A lower test of ‘intimidation’ than the one currently set in the Representation of the People Act 1983 should be introduced.

R3. The taking of pictures and use of cameras (including camera phones) in polling stations should be made illegal in order to prevent voters being intimidated into recording how they voted and to preserve the secrecy of the ballot.

R4. The use of English (and Welsh, where appropriate) in polling stations should be required at all times, including any assistance given to electors by electoral staff.

R5. Guidance and training should be strengthened to ensure that staff in polling stations enforce the rule that voters go to the booth individually.

R6. Guidance should be produced on layout of polling stations and actions to minimise scope for people to be able to take a ballot paper out of a polling station.

R7. Completed postal ballot packs should only be handed in at a polling station by the voter or a family member / designated carer acting on their behalf – a limit of two should be applied for any one person handing in completed ballots and require an explanation as to why they are being handed in and signature provided.

R8. The Government should consider the options for electors to have to produce personal identification before voting at polling stations. There is no need to be over elaborate; measures should enhance public confidence and be proportional. A driving licence, passport or utility bills would not seem unreasonable to establish identity. The Government may wish to pilot different methods. But the present system is unsatisfactory; perfection must not get in the way of a practical solution.

R9. Clearer guidance should be provided on the circumstances in which Electoral Registration Officers should seek further evidence as to an applicant’s address.

R10. The Government should consider how residence can be defined in law and what factors should be taken into consideration by Electoral Registration Officers in making that determination.

R11. The Government should produce statutory (if necessary) guidance for Electoral Registration Officers which ensures a consistent UK wide approach to determining residence.

R12. Legislation should be amended to strengthen the requirement to provide a previous address, by requiring a reason for non-supply of a previous address by applicants.

R13. The Government should take action to address the clear vulnerability to the registration system as a result of the lack of systematic checks on nationality.

R14. Registration application forms should be amended to contain warnings that nationality information may be checked against Government records and to re-iterate the existing warnings on the criminal penalty for provision of false information.

R15. The Government should consider the feasibility of an automated approach to checking nationality, to work as part of the existing individual electoral registration infrastructure.

R16. To protect the integrity of the electoral register and assist integration, the Government should work with councils to introduce a separate, voluntary municipal register for those who do not have voting rights, but do have permission to reside in the UK.

R17. The Government should investigate the development of a facility in the IER Digital Service to retain the IP address used to make applications. This should be subject to a rigorous cost/benefit analysis to ensure that that such an approach would be of genuine value to law enforcement.

R18. The offences contained in Section 66 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 which protect the secrecy of the ballot in relation to in person voting should be extended to postal ballots.

R19. Political campaigners/activists should be banned from handling completed postal votes and postal vote envelopes. The provisions should not apply to family members and designated carers (subject to a limit of two, as per Recommendation 7).

R20. In order to achieve a balance between preventing unscrupulous behaviour and permitting legitimate campaigners to provide assistance to help people participate, the Code of Conduct should reflect legislation. If a particular behaviour is unacceptable, it should be prohibited across the board in legislation, and the legislation then enforced equally across all parties/candidates.

R21. Requests for a waiver of the need to provide a signature should for a postal vote should require attestation, and the restrictions on people who can attest the waiver application should be the same as for proxy voters on the grounds of blindness or other disability.

R22. The option to permanently request a postal vote should be removed, and the option to apply for a postal vote for a specified period should be subject to a 3 year limit. After this period, the applicant should be required to submit a new postal vote application (with identifiers), and the Electoral Registration Officer should be required to review the application to satisfy themselves that the individual is currently resident at the address.

R23. It should be standard practice for local authorities to provide guidance in postal ballot packs on the secrecy of the vote and how to report electoral fraud.

R24. The provisions on an ID requirement in polling stations should apply to those casting a vote as a proxy on behalf of a voter.

R25. A power of enquiry should be available to Returning Officers to question applications for an emergency proxy.

R26. Consideration should be given to changing the deadline – to 5pm on the day before polling day – for emergency proxies (other than those for medical reasons or administrative failure by the Returning Officer) – so that Returning Officers have sufficient time to exercise the power of enquiry.

R27. The legislation on offences relating to proxy voting should be clarified around compelling/preventing someone applying for a proxy vote and altering someone’s completed application.

R28. The limit on the number of close relatives for whom a person can act as a proxy should be reduced to two.

R29. Given the concerns raised in Tower Hamlets and elsewhere regarding the running of election counts, there should be clearer and robust guidance for Returning Officers and electoral administrators to ensure best practice in all election counts.

R30. The system for challenging elections should be brought into the ordinary civil procedure and a single right of appeal should be available on both points of law and fact.

R31. A single elector should be able to challenge the outcome of any election.

R32. Returning Officers should have standing to bring election petitions. This should be limited to breaches of electoral law relating to the administration of the election or registration of electors and the Returning Officer should be able to test the effect on the result before proceeding.

R33. Political parties should be able to bring election petitions in the name of the party.

R34. The Government should change the law if necessary to remove all doubt as to the court’s ability to make protective costs or expenses orders.

R35. Where an election court finds evidence implicating non-named individuals as beneficiaries of electoral fraud, it should be possible for a petition or process to be raised against them within the usual timeframe, starting however from the date of the election court’s judgment rather than the date of the election.

R36. It should be possible to apply to extend the maximum time limit for an election petition to be lodged, and to amend the grounds of an election petition once it has been submitted. Consideration should be given to the length of the extension period and the circumstances where it should be available.

R37. The criminal standard of proof should be retained for election petitions.

R38. In conjunction with the devolved administrations, the Government should consider implementing a process for electors’ complaints about the administration of elections (which do not aim to overturn the result) to be investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman in England, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman as a means of providing an appropriate and accessible channel for considering complaints of a less serious nature.

R39. The procedures around candidate nominations should be reviewed to consider the prevention of sham nominations and ensuring that nominations are validly made.

R40. The Government should consider increasing the maximum sentences for electoral fraud relating to postal voting, personation and registration.

R41. The offence of undue influence should retain a reference to spiritual / religious influence.

R42. The learning from the work undertaken by local authorities in 17 areas at higher risk of electoral fraud ahead of the May 2015 polls should be utilised to inform guidance and practices that can assist areas in dealing with electoral fraud.

R43. The role of the Electoral Commission should be revisited to identify how the Commission may best operate in providing guidance, training and support with relation to the administration of electoral events. The Electoral Commission should also more narrowly focus on its core functions – of party finance and overseeing national campaign expenditure.

R44. The Government should consider how the performance management regime should be reformed and focus more clearly on key outcomes. Such a system of benchmarks would be better undertaken by the Cabinet Office, subject to the statutory framework being approved by Parliament.

R45. Work should be undertaken by Government to link with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the College of Policing, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the National Crime Agency to ensure that electoral fraud is seen as a significant issue, and that there is a consistency of approach / response across police forces to dealing with allegations of electoral fraud and impropriety.

R46. The Government could consider how the National Crime Agency, which has a remit to look at organised, economic and cyber-crime, might play a greater role in investigating and co-ordinating complex cases of electoral fraud, especially where it interacts with other financial or benefit fraud.

R47. Officers at the most senior level in a local authority, such as Chief Executives and Heads of Paid Service, should be appointed as Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers and should undertake relevant training to ensure that they have the skills required for the roles.

R48.That the position of Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers is clarified with respect to Freedom of Information rules and they are made subject to the relevant provisions to release information.

R49. A protocol for reporting within a local authority on issues relating to electoral fraud should be developed and guidance given by the Electoral Commission in conjunction with the National Police Chiefs Council and other relevant bodies.

R50. The Government should undertake a review of how democratic checks and balances can be increased in local government executive structures where power is concentrated.