The east London authority at the centre of a major investigation into allegations of widespread electoral fraud has been urged to rebuild trust with its voters after being cleared of wrongdoing by the Metropolitan Police.
An investigation by the Electoral Commission into the fraud allegations in Tower Hamlets before last May’s poll urges its key election officials to instigate an immediate review of its fraud detection procedures. This should aim to “increase their capacity to respond to allegations of electoral fraud, and to improve transparency”.
Such a review should establish procedures for receiving, investigating and escalating complaints about electoral register inaccuracies, the commission’s report suggest. “It is important…to ensure that concerns are not escalated in a way which could undermine confidence in the electoral process, without first having been subject to appropriate initial checks to establish whether offences may in fact have taken place,” it adds.
Metropolitan Police officers embarked on a major investigation following the allegations of electoral fraud. Their probe examined 64 cases, involving 154 separate allegations. Only three were found to have evidence which suggested an offence may have been committed. In all three, there was insufficient evidence to prove the offences or identify potential suspects.
The police have now concluded their investigations citing “no evidence” of widespread electoral fraud in the borough.
Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, said that even a small number of cases could damage public confidence in the electoral process. “Clearly there has been a breakdown of trust,” she added. “Steps must now be taken to begin rebuilding trust to avoid future elections being damaged by allegations of electoral fraud.”
A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets said that despite the allegations and media reports evidence of actual electoral fraud was very rare.
“In this case the media reports of alleged electoral malpractice were not generally based on fact or sound evidence.
“Nevertheless, all of the allegations received were referred to the Police for investigation. This Police investigation is now complete and in all but three of the 60 reported cases, no evidence was found to substantiate any allegation that an offence had been committed.”
She added: “We have always been open and transparent about the actions we have taken to prevent electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets.
“We recognise the damage done by unfounded allegations of fraudulent activity to the trust that is essential to the efficient running of the democratic process. We will take on board the Commission’s recommendations and continue to do everything we can to continue to ensure the integrity of the electoral register in our borough.”