At last night’s meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee I presented a short report on voter fraud in Woking. The background to this was the electoral petition in 2013 which revealed that the former Liberal Democrat councillor Mohammed Bashir won his Maybury & Sheerwater seat thanks to corrupt and fraudulent practices such as registering false voters, forging voters’ signatures and harvesting the votes of residents without their knowledge or consent.
People in Woking were rightly outraged at this blatant manipulation of the democratic process and sought reassurances that such abuse will never be allowed to happen again. The remit of my report was to consider whether the Overview & Scrutiny Committee should hold an inquiry session and examine the steps that the council has taken to safeguard the integrity of elections in the borough. It was also suggested that such a review would be a good opportunity to scrutinise the move towards the new ‘individual registration’ system which came into effect last year and will apply to voters registering for the General Election.
I met with the Chief Executive at the end of last year to discuss the issues raised in the scrutiny topic review. One aspect of our discussion was the timetable for publication of the report of the Elections and Electoral Registration Review Panel, which is independently chaired and produces an annual report into the conduct of the previous year’s elections. The Review Panel will be meeting this month and will submit its report to the next meeting of Full Council. This report will include details on work carried out in the lead up to the Borough and European elections in 2014, including the processes put in place after the electoral petition and court judgement on the conduct of Mr Bashir. As a result of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee’s request, the Review Panel will also examine the work carried out to introduce individual registration and the impact this should have on the conduct of future elections.
On the basis that Full Council will have the opportunity to review and debate the report of the Review Panel, I am satisfied that at this stage there was no need for the Overview & Scrutiny Committee to hold a separate session and call in officers or Executive members for a more formal hearing. However, the committee did take the opportunity to hold a short discussion on issues around voter fraud and electoral manipulation at last night’s meeting, which will help inform a broader debate when the subject comes before Full Council next month.