So which unionist party is in Douglas Bain’s sights?

An intriguing article in yesterday’s Irish News regarding suspicions by Chief Electoral Officer, Douglas Bain, that a political party may have been involved in forging signatures on applications for postal and proxy votes ahead of the General Election.

On the matter, Bain declares

This is a matter that will go to the police after the election.”

And, before hackles are raised, the clue regarding the likely suspect is to be found in the fact that the alleged discrepancy in signatures was noticed between forms submitted for the Castlereagh Council by election and the General Election in the same constituency (not really likely to be target constituencies for nationalist parties…)

For the record, I think the entire approach of the Electoral Office regarding registration is a disgrace, with not a little of the power freak syndrome involved. The Irish News today also carries a story about how a former Sinn Fein councillor had his application for a postal vote rejected because he was told his signature did not match an earlier signature obviously retained by the Office for comaparative purposes.

As one who spent years doorstepping people trying to get new and old voters registered (many in the early/mid Noughties did not even know they weren’t registered) I can testify to the frustrations experienced by voters who, having completed and posted in registration forms, were subsequently informed that they would have to take time off work to attend Electoral Courts at given times just to ensure they were returned to the register.

Given that National Insurance details and photo ID are now preconditions for voting, is there any real justification for the type of anal antics of the Electoral Office in this (and past) elections?

  • Mark McGregor

    Amen brother. I shared some of those days. I can’t recall a single act of fraud but I can remember SF members busting their balls to ensure every last voter was franchised.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I would have to agree.
    For about ten years I have had a few “run-ins” with the Hitler figure who was the regular “Jobsworth” at our local voting station.
    On occasions I was right.
    On occasions he was right.
    But it was evident that tightening up procedures has been a work in progress for a while.
    Mr Donnelly poses the question is there any real reason for this anal behaviour in “this and past” elections…..and possibly from the perspective of an older person, I would have to say a resounding “yes”.
    The “tallyman” is as dark an art as “spin doctoring” and yes there have been cases where Ive seen people vote who clearly were not entitled.
    Just how “criminal” this is……..well many rationalise that a person on business, on holiday, at college, ill, elderly or…….er dead……should still have the right to vote.
    Morally it is rationalised that its what they would have wanted.
    It has happened on both sides of the divide.
    Yet it is rationalised that “using” a vote is allowable but “stealing” a vote is not….taking a vote that would go to the opposing lot.
    Very bad form.
    There are clearly grey areas. Multiple registration abuse has been largely dealt with (presumably by computers in Electoral Office).
    My own radar was alerted when my mother was in an Old Peoples home and some things were going on which were not exactly legit.
    But both “sides” were at it.
    Has that abuse been dealt with?

    But the sophistication of the Canvas getting more sophisticated and with some technical breeches of Data Protection evident.
    For example is it now possible to “target” people (ie first time voters) with mail shots.
    And an example from just this week.
    A voter unable to vote at the last ssembly election…..the only one unable to do so in a five voter house……got an individual mail shot today from a candidate stressing the tightness of the race and every vote counts. Struck me as just a bit “iffy”.

  • The Chief Electoral Officer should come out and tell the people which party has been up to dirty tricks !!

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “The Irish News today also carries a story about how a former Sinn Fein councillor had his application for a postal vote rejected because he was told his signature did not match an earlier signature obviously retained by the Office for comaparative purposes.”

    Surely there should be an appeal system.

  • An Phoblacht Abu

    They are all at it, i voted for the GFA when i wasnt old enough to do so, and i voted at 3 different voting stations.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    when i wasnt old enough to do so

    Voting early?

  • Granni Trixie

    Given the times in which we live I appreciate an Electoral Office(r) doing the job they are paid to do. So why should they not query a signature etc?

    Cannot accept the grey area arguement…Its not the same as jobsworth to have well publicised rules governing the voting system. Some of you seem to be suggesting that the right to vote should override rules intended to ensure there is not corruption.

    This system is less complex than others although I accept that there may be additional ethical questions for political parties due to new technologies and more sophisticated analysis of data.

  • An Phoblacht Abu

    and voting often. People who were out of the country but didnt get a postal vote arranged were happy for there votes to be used in favour, so a certain party made sure they voted

  • My bank can reject a cheque I sign if my signature doesn’t match what they have on record. So why should the same standard not apply for postal votes?

    Aren’t the postal ballot rules agreed by politicians – set by Parliament?

    As an Election Observer watching the process being followed – I sat in on Belfast South postal ballot returns being checked on Friday – it looked to me that the staff checking the forms were in the business of giving people a mandate rather than trying their utmost to deny people votes.

    But if people get their date of birth wrong, or use a signature nothing like one they supplied a few years before, does it not ring alarm bells of possible foul play?

  • Chris Donnelly

    Alan
    I can understand the birth date but signature doesn’t work for me. Personally, I don’t have a standard signature. I’m writing that often that sometimes it appears half printed, other times joined and not always in an identical manner.

    I’ve also seen plenty of signatures that look like a richter scale reading during an earthquake.

    But, ultimately, the determining factor should be that people are entitled to have their franchise respected by the Electoral Office. Making people not only sign forms, but also attend electoral hearings, was a disgrace, not least because the grounds for selecting individuals for appearing at such hearings was far from clear.

    Secondly, if you are entitled to vote- and have provided National Insurance as well as other personal details and are required to produce photo ID at the polling booth, then why should the electoral office make it difficult for people?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I also remember several occasions in the mid/late 1990s, some time before the tightening of the rules, where I’d be in a polling station in the early evening and a voter would arrive to be told that they had, in fact, already voted. Voter would protest and show photo ID to prove him/herself. Pink ballot paper would be issued. I remember one particular occasion in 1997 when this occurred twice within the same 15 minute period. That was in St Therese Primary School.

    I also remember at least one occasion where the electoral office would receive around 10,000 postal applications all at once within one or two days of the closing date. And the occasion where they found found an unoccupied flat in the New Lodge where something like 14 people were registered to vote. I’m sure there’s something in the back of my head about a court case in 1997 where the SDLP had a hundred or so registrations removed from the electoral roll.

    To me it is clear that there was systematic and well organized fraud taking place, and that the reforms to the voting setup were necessary to ensure confidence in the working of the system. The people who were organizing that fraud are obviously never going to admit to it.

  • Cynic2

    Chris

    Electoral fraud was and is rampant here … all the parties were at for years. We need controls to stop elections being stolen.

    Is it true, for example, for example that in one rural constituency a candidates supporters are helping wavering voters by taking postal vote application forms to them, then collecting the postal votes from them afterwards (preferably open, just to help in the tally of course) just to ensure that they all get posted. What great local service and all above board I am sure.

    This wouldn’t be the same constituency where all the opponents signs are being ripped down?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Fitz,

    A voter unable to vote at the last ssembly election…..the only one unable to do so in a five voter house……got an individual mail shot today from a candidate stressing the tightness of the race and every vote counts. Struck me as just a bit “iffy”.

    It comes as a shock to a lot of people, but AFAIK the political parties receive, along with a copy of the electoral roll, details of who voted.

  • cynic47

    Get a life. The man in question has worked in London for years and has flown back in the past to vote in FST “where he say’s every vote counts”. Why is he not registered where he works and lives…London.

  • Pete Baker

    And, before hackles are raised, the clue regarding the likely suspect is to be found in the fact that the alleged discrepancy in signatures was noticed between forms submitted for the Castlereagh Council by election and the General Election in the same constituency (not really likely to be target constituencies for nationalist parties…)

    Faulty logic, Chris.

    As the Irish News report points out

    [Mr Bain] said his staff were first alerted when they received applications to vote in the Castlereagh council by-election, also taking place on May 6, from voters who lived nowhere near the area.

    The report also quotes the Electoral Office on this

    “What I suspect is a political party downloaded the wrong forms and distributed them and when they collected them back in they realised the mistakes they made.”

    Castlereagh is only involved by the mistake made by the party apparatchik. Assuming that mistake was made by a unionist party requires a leap of faith for which you have no evidence.

    And the ‘crime’ here is the effort by that apparatchik to avoid revealing their error to the people who filled in the forms.

    They had originally filled in the wrong forms, but no-one’s vote was being stolen.

  • Chris Donnelly

    C Stalin
    You may have a point regarding the initial reasoning behind the new measures over registration, but have they gone too far? Does compulsory photo ID- and a NI number- not address the points you make?

    Cynic
    This wouldn’t be the same constituency where all the opponents signs are being ripped down?

    Cynic
    I know not of which constituency you refer but, given that Sinn Fein posters don’t seem to be lasting long in Lagan Valley and that the TUV and UCUNF candidates in East Antrim issued a joint statement on the disappearance of their posters, I would suggest to you that poster theft is a fairly widespread- and regrettable- occurence.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Castlereagh is only involved by the mistake made by the party apparatchik. Assuming that mistake was made by a unionist party requires a leap of faith for which you have no evidence.

    Pete
    I think it’s quite obvious from my wording that I am suggesting nationalist parties would not have been involved, providing the context. Not a leap of faith by any stretch (well, for most people….)

    Also, nowhere in the intro piece is vote stealing alleged.

  • Pete Baker

    And I’m pointing out that the actual context is that the forms were filled in by people outside of the constituency that you’ve used to suggest nationalist parties “would not have been involved”.

    Look at the detail. Or, at least, provide that detail for the readers.

    Someone copied local government election applications, initially filled in by constituents elsewhere, to apply for a postal/proxy vote in the general election.

  • Cynic2

    Chris

    I agree. So is postal vote fraud, personation / ballot stuffing. That’s why we need the controls. There are just some of our politicians who have trouble with this democracy thing

  • > I also remember at least one occasion where the electoral office would receive around 10,000 postal applications all at once within one or two days of the closing date.

    I think those days are now over – parties don’t seem to be encouraging (or at least organising) postal voting so much.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Yes I know that. But its the first time Ive actually heard of a mail shot directed at a previous non voter.
    The vote had been promised to the Canvasser last time round so Im assuming that the Party have actually written a specially prepared mail shot for non voters.
    (as I mentioned the non-voter had fully intended to vote) .

    I dont know much about computers but Id assume that the technology makes it easier to prepare such material.
    It was a addressed with a computer prepared label.

  • YelloSmurf

    I don’t think that political parties can buy the marked electoral register (so called because the polling station staff have marked off those who voted), but they can, like anyone else, ask to see it. If you take a laptop with your canvas database on it, or even an electoral register showing canvas data, it’s not hard to find the people who said that they’d support you but didn’t actually vote.

    That’s not the only possible explanation for what happened. If a political party decides to individually label the communications to be sent out by the royal mail, they generally want to send more than one (other wise they would leave it to royal mail to send one to everyone on the register). Throughout this election, my dad and I have generally been sent the same communications. This may leave you to assume that they are only targeting men, or they don’t want my mum’s vote. In fact, they have just been saving my mum’s name, as the first one on the register for our house, so that they have another chance to send us all a leaflet.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Chris,

    Compulsory photo ID does address fully the issues that happened years ago, and you don’t hear any more moaning about electoral fraud as a result. That said, the electoral office are within their rights to reject applications they find suspicious. I’d like to hear a bit more about how frequent these rejections are.

    Sadly, people who find their form are just as likely to say “sod that” rather than fill it in all over again; and the lack of motivation in the courts to properly enforce the law over registration doesn’t help.

  • One problem of the election being called late this time is that for anyone whose application was rejected, there was no time to resubmit as the legal cut-off date had been reached. If the election had been called a week or two earlier, there would probably have been more time to fix mistakes.

  • cups

    I applied for a postal vote for the current general election, but I didn’t get it. I filled in the forms, then scanned them and emailed them to a friend in Belfast, who printed and signed them, then handed the over to the electoral office. They weren’t accepted because I did not sign the papers that they recieved myself.
    I’ve also had a lot of problems with the electoral office before. I needed to apply for an electoral ID card a few times, because they thought that my signature did not match the one that I had used before.
    Does anybody know anything about electoral officials in other parts of the UK? I know that everybody else had 5 days longer than we did to apply for a postal vote, and they boast about how lax they are when asking for ID at polling stations.