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Voter fraud fears are exposed in run-up to election
21 February 2012
The Evening Standard today exposes fears of voter fraud in London just 10 weeks before the mayoral election which is set to be the tightest ever.
Dozens of flats in a key borough are holding up to eight people per bedroom, according to the electoral register.
Tenants in Tower Hamlets said it was "impossible" for so many residents to share one property and some admitted they had never heard of their apparent flatmates. In one case, 12 adults are still listed as voters at a three-bedroom flat in Mile End despite having moved out about four months before officials gathered data for the register.
It raises the spectre of new electoral fraud in a borough plagued by claims of ballot-rigging. Director of London LSE Tony Travers said: "This does not look good. Tower Hamlets need to conduct an urgent official investigation - particularly with a very tightly-fought London election only a few months away. The contest could be decided on a tiny number of votes and a disputed result is the last thing we need. Electoral fraud always matters but when the race is this close it matters more."
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Town hall records for Tower Hamlets show a total of 64 properties in the borough are registered to 550 voters - an average of three people per bedroom. According to up-to-date town hall records, there are 12 people sharing one top-floor flat, which has only one bathroom.
When the Standard visited the flat, the six current tenants, from Spain and Italy, expressed disbelief that a dozen adults could live there.
One tenant who moved in last week, said: "Twelve people? No way, it's crazy. One of the current guys had a friend staying to visit and seven is already a squeeze." When questioned by the Standard, the letting agent for the property admitted only "three or four" of the tenants listed on the electoral register had signed a contract for the flat.
Abdul Shahid of E1UK said: "There were never 12 people. It's not possible."
Residents in other properties approached by the Standard admitted some of those registered were family members who "lived elsewhere".
One occupant of a three-bedroom flat with 12 registered voters claimed that just six people lived at the property.
He said six people live at the flat including his landlord and that some people lived and worked at a nearby Indian restaurant, he didn't know which one, but used the address for "communication".
He said others were relatives who had returned to Bangladesh. He declined to say which names on the electoral register worked at the restaurant.
One two-bedroom property in E2 has 10 residents but five people are said to be living there in two bedrooms.
A man said the others were relatives who used to live there or people who worked and lived at a nearby restaurant.
Tower Hamlets has been plagued with allegations of electoral abuse. Scotland Yard launched four separate investigations into claims of voter fraud inside the borough after Lutfur Rahman was elected as mayor of the borough in 2010. No one was convicted.
The borough has recorded unusual changes in voting patterns. During the 2008 mayoral election, the Labour share of the vote went up 23 per cent while the turnout increased by 35 per cent. In every other London borough except Newham, the "swing" in the Livingstone vote did not top seven per cent in either direction.
Mr Rahman became the first directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets during a hotly-disputed election. He stood as a Labour candidate but was de-selected amid claims about his links with a fundamentalist group. He has denied the allegations.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said: "I have to say this appears to be a deeply concerning situation and there must be an immediate investigation to get to the bottom of this."
A Tower Hamlets spokesman said: "We take the issue of electoral fraud extremely seriously, and all allegations are referred to the police for investigation. We have taken a number of measures, more than most local authorities, to address this issue and continue to work hard to ensure that when people cast their vote it is safe, secure and will be counted.
"We are looking into this matter and will consider what further investigation is appropriate."
Additional reporting: Rob Parsons.
Who is responsible for the electoral roll?
Tower Hamlets has a legal duty to provide an accurate electoral roll under the Representation of the People Act 1983. Officials have powers to investigate alleged abuses.
The Electoral Commission says: "Electoral staff are uniquely-placed to identify fraud or attempted fraud. They should be alert to . . . a large number of 'forms' in the same property . . . for example, 10 people registered to a bedsit." Lucy Frazer, a barrister at South Square chambers, said: "If there is evidence of unlikely living arrangements in the borough then it may be inappropriate for the electoral registration officer not to act."
What role do police play?
Electoral fraud is a crime and allegations ultimately have to be investigated by police. However, prosecutions have proved difficult. Across England and Wales, police investigated more than 230 claims of voter malpractice after the 2010 general election but secured only one conviction. Tower Hamlets saw four investigations.
Allegations of electoral fraud seem to emerge during every election. Why is more not done to prevent abuses? No one can provide a detailed answer. In 2010, the Electoral Commission looked into claims that 98 addresses had nine or more people registered to vote. In one four-bedroom home, 18 men had apparently registered. Police found no evidence of wrongdoing.
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