WOKING Borough Council’s Returning Officer has lashed out at the Electoral Commission findings.
In a report released last week, the independent watchdog identified Woking as one of 16 (out of 400) local authorities at a higher risk of allegations of electoral fraud.
The commission recommended Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Officers take steps before the May local and European elections to protect their integrity.
Returning Officer and Council Chief Executive, Ray Morgan (left), said: “My disappointment with the Electoral Commission was that it did not recognise what we already do and would not engage with us before publishing its report.
“I was extremely disappointed that the commission projected such a negative image of Woking and other councils in its press release.
“I can’t explain in detail the measures we take as it would reduce their effectiveness but I assure News & Mail readers the cross checking with other council records, visits to homes where we have concerns over the number of registered electors, the additional validation requests during the election and the work we are doing with the full support of Surrey Police reduces the risk of fraud and improves our chances of prosecuting those we catch.
“It would be unfair to remove the right to a postal vote from Maybury and Sheerwater when the majority of electors are honest and only a few corrupt. I would prefer to see those who are honest coming forward and telling the council and police they are aware of those who are dishonest as they unjustly and unfairly damage the reputation of all the community.
“My real preference is that the Government change the law so that identification is easier and the right to have a postal vote should be restricted.
“Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm and the majority of electors can make it to vote; only those who know they will be away or have health reasons should be entitled to a postal vote.
“This problem was created by opening up postal votes just to increase turnout [active voters] and the consequences are clear; if the Government want to increase turnout they should make voting mandatory as they do in other countries.”
Last year, Mohammed Bashir’s Maybury and Sheerwater council seat was pulled from under him when he was found guilty of electoral fraud following a lengthy and complicated court battle.
At the time of judgement, Electoral Commissioner, Richard Mawry QC, stated: “Mr Morgan was an impressive witness and I was left in no doubt the electoral affairs in Woking are run as well as one could expect.”
Mr Morgan said: “For the commission to fail to have taken into account all the work that had been done in addressing fraud is a clear lack of due diligence and care on their part. It should look to its own procedures and due diligence before criticising others.”
See www.electoralcommission.org.uk to view the full report.