YORK UNIVERSITY students could have voted illegally in last week’s general election, casting two votes without fear of being caught.
No system has been implemented to prevent students committing fraud, tarnishing Labour’s historic third term win. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, disclosed that she had illegally used both her votes. “I had sent off my postal vote for my home constituency a few days earlier, so when poll day came round I thought I might as well use my vote here as well since there’s nothing to stop me.”
Students are automatically registered by the University to vote in the Selby constituency, despite many already being registered at home. Receiving polling cards from each constituency, many students use the opportunity to vote twice.
Students’ Union President, James Alexander, fronted a campus campaign try to persuade more students to vote, in which he warned that “You can only vote here OR at home, to do both is illegal.”
However, Gemma Crossland from the Electoral Commission, an independent body that regulates elections, admitted that although “it’s not lawful to vote twice… there’s little to stop people. It does concern us.”
The problem lies in the way the electoral register works. There is no centralised list of where people are registered, and who has a polling card. Instead it is done locally, in individual constituencies.
A lack of communication means no-one can tell if someone his registered or has voted in two constituencies.
The Electoral Reform Society has pushed for changes in the voting system and has been vocal in its attack on how it currently works, running a campaign entitled ‘Make This The Last Unjust Election’. Even before the election they were predicting that many MPs victories could be challenged on their legitimacy.
As well as campaigning for a national electoral register, they have also called for a system of proportional representation. Electoral Reforms’ press officer, Alex Folkes, said “that there is nothing wrong with students being registered in both constituencies but we do need some sort of system to make sure double voting won’t happen. At the moment it’s all based on honesty”.
He also revealed that since 2001 they have been calling for the government to make changes, something supported by Crossland who said “the Electoral Commission has told the Government that there has to be a national electoral register. It is an old issue that needs sorting out.”
The Conservative Party, who narrowly lost the Selby seat by 467 votes to the Labour MP, John Grogan, have reacted angrily to the lack of action by Tony Blair over voting reform.
An anonymous member of the University Conservative Society attacked the Labour government for not addressing the problem, accusing them of “not dealing with a situation that could possible have affected vital seats, such as Selby. This is obviously a deeply serious issue, which I cannot believe has not been sorted out yet.”
Dr. Liam Fox, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, had already made a more general attack on the voting system, stating: “The electoral practices of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as intimidation and fraud, risk becoming the hallmark of the twenty-first century.”
Although the Electoral Reform Society, speaking before the election, commented that fraud “would not affect who is the Prime Minister”, they agreed “that it will lead to disputes over some seats.”
These new revelations have come at the end of a campaign dogged by allegations of voting fraud, specifically postal voting. A judge exposed postal vote fraud as “widespread” in the 2004 local elections in Birmingham after the results of six Labour seats were challenged by Liberal Democrat opposition.
Recently two men have been arrested in Bradford after allegations against the Conservative candidate Jamshed Khan that thirteen people applied for postal votes at his address.
At the time of going to print the NUS was unable to comment on whether they felt that the student vote was potentially fraudulent.