An investigation into the UK's electoral system has found serious failings with security ahead of London's Mayoral elections on Thursday.
The Rowntree Reform Trust's report Purity of Elections in the UK: Causes for Concern highlighted weaknesses with postal voting and the inaccuracy of the electoral roll as the biggest threats to British democracy.
But electronic voting was also mentioned. The Trust found that e-voting pilots "have proved extremely expensive and there is no evidence to suggest that e-voting offers any significant scope for turnout to be increased by this means. At the same time, serious concerns persist about the security and transparency of e-voting systems and their vulnerability to organised fraud."
Researchers also had serious concerns with electronic counting, which will be used to count Thursday's votes. E-counting caused serious problems in Scotland in 2007 and led the Electoral Commission to recommend suspension of future trials. The report notes: "Not only has e-counting has frequently failed to improve on the estimated time required for a manual count, it has also highlighted the lack of transparency in such a system."
Postal voting does have a beneficial impact on turnout but only a short-lived impact, which levels out and subsequently declines. But postal voting, which has grown from just over two per cent of total votes cast in 1997 to 15 per cent in 2005 is more vulnerable to large-scale fraud. Most examples of malpractice found in the UK were associated with proxy or postal voting. For this week's Mayoral elections two officials from each borough have been trained by the Forensic Science Service to help them spot dodgy ballots.
The Rowntree Trust said there were no authoritative figures on the accuracy of the electoral roll, but pilot research in some areas of London found up to a third of voters may be unregistered.
The Rowntree Trust said it would be presumptuous to pre-empt conclusions for the Electoral Commission review but said it could not discount the need for "root and branch reform of British electoral law". It suggests following lessons learned by reform in Northern Ireland including registration of individuals rather than households, rolling rather than annual registration and requiring all voters to present a form of photo ID like a passport or driving licence when voting.
There were 42 convictions for electoral fraud between 2000 and 2007. Since 2000 every English police force bar the City of London has investigated allegations of electoral malpractice.
The research was carried out in 2007 by Stuart Wilks-Heeg from the University of Liverpool.
Last month electoral commissioner Richard Mawrey QC also strongly criticised the electoral system while finding Eshaq Khan guilty of electoral fraud. Mawrey said: "There is no reason to suppose that this is an isolated incident. Roll-stuffing is childishly simple to commit and very difficult to detect. To ignore the probability that it is widespread, particularly in local elections, is a policy that even an ostrich would despise." ®