Plans to restrict postal voting and introduce ballot box identity checks have been welcomed by senior politicians, after it was announced Bradford will be monitored closely during the next 12 months by an elections watchdog in a bid to clamp down on polling fraud.
The district is one of 15 areas, including Calderdale and Kirklees in West Yorkshire, where there has been a history of cases of alleged fraud and will now be subject to scrutiny by the Electoral Commission.
Yesterday, the Commission said the British voting system was vulnerable to abuse, even when all existing measures were being taken to prevent and detect it. It found there is a “consistent underlying level of concern among voters” about electoral fraud, but reports of wrong-doing are concentrated in a small number of local authority areas.
The Commission is looking at options to crack down on abuse of the system in Britain, including adopting measures used in Northern Ireland such as restricting postal voting to constituents who are physically unable to vote in person and forcing voters to prove their identity at polling stations.
It said West Yorkshire Police was in the top ten police forces reporting the most number of alleged cases of electoral fraud, with 21 cases reported in 2012 ranging from allegations of ballot papers being tampered with to false statements as to candidates.
Bradford Council leader David Green said: “We have had a sort of history of concerns raised over elections and voting fraud over a number of years. I am delighted the Electoral Commission is coming in to support the work of the Council and the police.
“I can’t say Bradford has a bigger problem than elsewhere, but I want to make sure every election held in this district is fair and free.”
Councillor Glen Miller, Conservative group leader on the Council, said: “People should be voting with picture identification because I get complaints raised with me every election.
“You hear about farming votes, when people are forced to hand over their voting cards and they don’t realise that is illegal because they don’t understand these things.”
Jenny Watson, chairman of the Electoral Commission, said: “Although the law has been changed over the years to strengthen the system – introducing checks on postal votes and making registering to vote more secure starting next summer – our research shows voters are still concerned about electoral fraud. As we make the electoral registration system more secure, it’s time to look at whether other trust-based elements of our system are sustainable.”
Bradford Council chief executive Tony Reeves, who is the Returning Officer for elections, said: “The Council always works closely with the Electoral Commission and West Yorkshire Police to support democracy in fair and transparent elections, so that the public can have full confidence in their outcome.”
But Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Council’s Liberal Democrats’ group, said: “We don’t need the Commission to come and keep an eye on us. We need people to turn out to vote because if people turn out in sufficient numbers the crooks can’t win.”