Multi lingual leaflets for Fenland polling stations ordered by returning officer Paul Medd following concerns over possible electoral fraud
- Credit: Archant
Multi lingual information is being provided at polling stations across Fenland on May 2 to counter the possibility of electoral fraud.
The decision was taken by Fenland District Council chief executive Paul Medd – who is also the returning officer – following concerns raised by a Wisbech councillor.
Cllr Virginia Bucknor, the independent member for Waterlees who is standing down next week, told Mr Medd that on a previous occasion “it was self-evident outside the polling station that things were amiss in the afternoon - presumably for East Europeans returning from shift work”.
She said she had previously mentioned to Mr Medd that there were police officers outside a polling station who were “blissfully unaware of the situation and I was unable to draw to their attention.
“I was on my own and felt too vulnerable whilst these men were escorting voters to the station. Additionally, not speaking the language I was unable to make direct discreet inquiries.”
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She told Mr Medd: “I think if the police were alerted then this would be helpful too.”
Mr Medd said any allegations of possible election fraud and/or unacceptable behaviour are taken seriously.
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“Everything possible will be done to ensure that all voters are free to express their own personal choice without the fear of undue influence,” he told Cllr Bucknor.
“I can inform you that a letter is being sent to election agents to remind them of the expected practice in terms of proxy votes.”
Mr Medd said he had “reflected” on the “specific requests” with Anna Goodall, head of governance, and considered the associated guidance provided by the Electoral Commission.
“We have agreed to provide appropriate multi-lingual information to assist non English speaking voters at polling stations,” he said.
“It is worth you being aware that in agreeing to this for Waterlees, and to ensure electoral consistency, we will be obliged to provide this information across all of the districts polling stations.
“Our polling station staff are provided with the necessary training to ensure that all is in order on the day of the election and to immediately report any such activity that may suggest otherwise.”
Mr Medd told Cllr Bucknor: “If you still have concerns with the assurances provided and you believe you have information and/or evidence as to electoral malpractice that could undermine the integrity of an election you should report this to the police.”
Cllr Bucknor said she felt the response from Mr Medd was “a good start”.
She said that she had first raised concerns before the 2015 council elections regarding “suspected intimidation of Waterlees residents” and she had to re-assure one voter that their vote was confidential.
She said that during the election “I sat outside the Oasis Community Centre and whilst all seemed to be in order in the morning, the situation changed radically after around 2pm.
“Many East Europeans arrived, none of whom I knew or recognised, carrying a slip of paper tightly in one hand - it appeared to be of whom to vote for.
“I stopped counting after over 200 people went into the polling station in that manner. A queue formed.
“Most were escorted to the polling station by two very large burly men all in black. I raised my concerns then with the officers inside but there seemed little they could do but they assured me they were being vigilant. It was self evident that something was amiss but the language barrier prevented any further inquiry being conducted.”
She said that since Waterlees always has a low voter turnout of around 30 per cent “this was extremely concerning”.
She said she had also asked if a Latvian or Russian speaking officer could be placed at the polling station.
She told Mr Medd: “I know that you will want to ensure that people’s votes are done in confidence without intimidation and I do believe extra vigilance is required for the forthcoming elections to ensure this is the case