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The Electoral Commission - Perceptions of electoral fraud do not match available evidence, study shows

There is no evidence of widespread or systematic attempts to undermine elections or referendums last year, a new report shows.

The Electoral Commission, working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS), has published the fourth annual study of cases of alleged electoral malpractice.

Over 39 million votes were cast during the election period, but only 224 cases of alleged electoral malpractice were reported to the police. Of these cases, 99 required no further police action and none have been shown to have affected the outcome of any election or referendum.

Despite the relatively low level of allegations, 36% of people believe electoral fraud is a ‘very big’ or ‘fairly big’ problem. These people, however, were more likely to have seen stories in the media about fraud than those who said it was not a very big problem or a problem at all (49% v 32%). The Commission plans further research to better understand why voters are so concerned.

Commenting on the findings, Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said:

”The evidence suggests that proven cases of electoral fraud are rare. But this is a serious issue and nobody should be complacent: more can and should be done to prevent electoral malpractice.”

“We welcome Government plans to introduce individual electoral registration in Great Britain. This will strengthen our electoral system and reduce the risk of fraud. We also want the Government to make progress in reviewing whether voters should provide identification at polling stations.

“Electoral malpractice is a criminal offence and those found guilty should expect to be severely punished. Anyone who suspects it is taking place should report this to the police for investigation. As we approach the 2012 polls, we will also be working hard to ensure campaigners are aware of our guidance, so they do not fall foul of the law.”

Speaking on behalf of police forces across the United Kingdom, Assistant Chief Constable, Gary Cann said: "As well as demonstrating that electoral malpractice allegations remain at a low level, this report shows how seriously the police take these allegations.

"As we approach the 2012 polls, police forces across the UK will continue to work with the Electoral Commission to prevent and detect electoral malpractice.  Anyone found to be acting illegally will be reported and, if prosecuted, could find themselves facing a significant fine or lengthy prison sentence.

"Often people who are suspicious that electoral fraud is taking place are unsure of where to report it. Our message, in the run-up to the 2012 elections and referendums, is that this is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police as soon as possible. Investigations will then take place to ensure that our democratic process remains unaffected by malpractice."

Main findings of the report

  • A total of 224 cases of alleged electoral malpractice were reported by the police during the election reporting period. 192 of these were reported in England, six in Scotland, six in Wales and 20 in Northern Ireland.
  • As of 31 December 2011, court proceedings have been initiated in one case of alleged personation at a polling station, and one case relating to a campaign leaflet imprint offence has been resolved with a caution (See Notes to Editors 5).
  • Sixty-one cases resulted in informal advice being given by the police following investigation. As of 31 December 2011, 61 cases remained under investigation or are awaiting advice from prosecutors.
  • Campaigning offences, such as false statements made about a candidate, were the most frequent type of allegations made over the election period.

Notes to editors

  1. Read the report here (PDF)
  2. The ‘election period’ refers to the time period around the 5 May 2011 elections and referendums. This ran from 5 April to 20 August 2011.
  3. Statistics on perceptions are taken from separate research by the Electoral Commission, also published in March 2012. View the research here (PDF) 
  4. No further police action was taken in 99 cases because no offence was found, there was no evidence of electoral malpractice, or it was not possible to detect the individual who might have committed an offence.
  5. Personation is when an individual votes as someone else, either by post or in person. By law an ‘imprint’ must be added to campaign material to show who is responsible for its production.
  6. The majority of the alleged registration offences in Northern Ireland included the provision of false information to register to vote. These were often found to be the result of one member of the household signing forms for other family members without realising that they had committed an offence.  Of the cases (20 in total), four required no further action, seven were given informal police advice and two remain under investigation.
  7. As well as analysis of data from cases reported by police across the UK, the report also contains recommendations for further action and case studies for some of the different types of cases handled by police.
  8. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections.
  9. The Commission works in partnership with the police, electoral administrators, Royal Mail and political parties to prevent electoral malpractice, including providing information, guidance and training.  We also set performance standards for electoral administrators. More information can be found on the Commission’s website: www.electoralcommission.org.uk
  10. Assistant Chief Constable Gary Cann is speaking on this occasion on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS).  ACPOS can be contacted for Scotland specific enquiries on 0141 435 1241.
  11. Research on perceptions was carried out by TNS-BMRB.

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