Tower Hamlets: Concern over voters ‘not having secret ballots’ in Lutfur Rahman election, report claims

The Electoral Commission says it saw “well-run voting processes”, despite a “very small number” of incidents where more than one voter tried to use the same poll booth.

Concerns have been raised over some voters “not having a secret ballot” in the local election in Tower Hamlets resoundingly won by mayor Lutfur Rahman, a new report has claimed.

The research into the town hall election held in the east London borough earlier this month claims observers found “significant challenges to the electoral process” during polling.

However, the Electoral Commission (EC) says it saw “well-run voting processes”, despite a “very small number” of incidents where more than one voter tried to use the same poll booth.

They say these instances were promptly handled by “well-trained polling staff”.

Mr Rahman’s Aspire Party told LondonWorld: “These were high-turnout elections that delivered a decisive result respected by all parties.”

Police officers stand outside a polling station in Tower Hamlets in 2015 - the elections over which Lutfur Rahman was convicted of electoral fraud and removed from office. Credit: LEON NEAL/AFP via Getty Images

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Questions raised by the report, produced by organisation Democracy Volunteers, follow the surprise return of former Labour councillor and ex-Tower Hamlets mayor Mr Rahman.

He was removed from office after being found to have employed “corrupt and illegal practices” in his previous campaign, before being reelected mayor as leader of the Aspire Party on Thursday, May 5.

Mr Rahman, who was disbarred as a solicitor, has always maintained his innocence.

It comes as the Conservative peer Lord Robert Hayward is set to bring forward proposals to help prevent voting malpractice to Parliament later this week.

Plans would give police clearer powers to stop relatives exerting influence at the ballot box.

Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets. Credit: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

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Produced by Dr John Ault and Harry Busz, the Democracy Volunteers report claims its team of 10 observers saw “continuing significant challenges” in some parts of the borough.

They noted “large, and sometimes intimidating crowds outside polling stations”, as well as “extremely high levels of attempted family voting”.

The report alleges this was “frequently, but not always, prevented by the polling staff”.

Staff at polls were trained in electoral fraud ahead of the elections, and each polling station had an extra person to help direct voters individually to polling booths.

Dr Ault and Mr Busz said: “Those subjected to family voting (i.e. not having a secret ballot) were invariably women (85%) from the Asian community and those causing family voting were generally men (61%).

“We observed family voting in 32% of polling stations – this would have been more if it were not for the actions of the elections staff, and to some extent the police.”

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A Lutfur Rahman election poster.

While the report also claims observers saw “polling cards being displayed on an elector’s mobile phone” and “some voters being apparently unaware of their name and address”.

They said this “might have indicated some degree of personation in the voting process”.

Observers for Democracy Volunteers attended 96 of the 109 polling places in Tower Hamlets in teams of two, and spent between 30 and 60 minutes at each polling venue observing the process.

However, a spokesperson for the Electoral Commission, which visited 104 Tower Hamlets polling stations on election day, said: “Tower Hamlets council, the Met Police and the commission were clear with voters and campaigners that everyone must be able to vote in secret and free from intimidation and undue influence.

Lutfur Rahman has been reelected mayor of Tower Hamlets. Photo: LDRS

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“In our visits to polling stations across the borough we observed spirited campaigning, well-run voting processes, and a high police presence that aimed to protect and reassure voters.

“Anyone with concerns about intimidation or fraud was able to raise these with the police throughout the day.”

But they added: “We also observed a very small number of instances where more than one voter attempted to use the same polling booth. These were quickly dealt with by well-trained polling station staff.

“We are still conducting our analysis of the polls, but at this stage we are not aware of allegations of personation relating to the elections in Tower Hamlets.”

Tower Hamlets council and the Met Police have also established a portal on the council’s website for people to submit allegations of potential fraud.

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A spokesperson for the Aspire Party told LondonWorld: "These were high-turnout elections that delivered a decisive result respected by all parties.

"We welcome Democracy Volunteers’ recognition of Tower Hamlets council workers’ considerable efforts to deliver high quality elections. We will examine their report and recommendations closely as part of our commitments to increase democratic participation.

"Aspire acted in accordance with the law and the spirit of democratic participation.

“We provided training for our campaigners so that all our polling day volunteers were fully aware of their legal and democratic rights and responsibilities."