Postal vote fraud rocks Birmingham by-election in Sparkbrook
Police are investigating the worst outbreak of voter fraud at a Birmingham City Council election for five years.
Almost 400 postal votes cast at Thursday’s Sparkbrook ward by-election – a third of the total issued – were rejected as likely forgeries.
Council officials, backed by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, called in the police after saying they suspected an organised plot to influence the result of the by-election, which was won by Respect candidate Shokat Ali.
In 2004, Birmingham was likened to a “banana republic” by Elections Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC, who investigated hundreds of forged ballot papers at that year’s city council elections.
Birmingham Labour leader Sir Albert Bore said those behind the alleged fraud at Sparkbrook had attempted to destroy the electoral process.
Sir Albert added: “Nearly 400 postal vote ballot papers were rejected because of inconsistencies in either the date of birth or the signature of the elector.
“It is appalling that even after a number of very public concerns and enquires into postal vote fraud, the election process in Sparkbrook has been undermined by individuals who have, in a number of ways, attempted to submit postal vote ballot papers of electors other than themselves.
“The fact that around 30 per cent of all postal votes cast – and there were almost 1,800 postal votes cast in this by-election – were rejected clearly illustrates the magnitude of the fraud being perpetuated.
“Birmingham’s reputation for honesty and integrity at election times has again been undermined.”
John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Yardley, who chairs his party’s group on the city council, said: “I want to know whose votes were forged. Postal voting is a criminal offence and this needs to be sorted out”.
Respect Party leader and Sparkbrook councillor Salma Yaqoob raised the possibility with police of fraud during the run-up to polling day after discovering that some Respect supporters hadn’t received their postal voting forms. She suspected ballot papers might have been stolen.
Coun Yaqoob said: “I am very concerned that so many postal votes were rejected by the returning officer. An investigation must be held. If it turns out that fraud was involved, anyone responsible should face prosecution.
“But the truth is that the whole postal vote system is wide open to abuse. For so long as it remains, someone, somewhere, will find a way to bend the rules.
“I won cross-party support last year for an approach to the government asking them to scrap postal voting in Birmingham. The Government really needs to act on this call now to prevent our electoral system being undermined.”
The city council introduced new computer-based checks on postal votes after Mr Mawrey’s damning report into the 2004 elections.
At one stage during the Sparkbrook by-election count half of all postal votes cast were held back for detailed checks after tellers became suspicious.
A council spokesman said: “The apparently significant volume of postal votes rejected provides clear evidence that our new security measures are having a real impact on ensuring the integrity of election counts in Birmingham is preserved.
“As soon as the number of rejected votes started to become apparent we immediately contacted the police, and will work alongside them in any resulting investigation which follows.”
The full result at Sparkbrook:
Ali Shokat (Resp): 2495
Mohammed Azim (Lab): 2228
Abdul Kadir (Con): 799
Naeem Qureshi (Lib Dem): 506
Charles Alldrick (Green): 213
Sakander Mahmood (Ind): 55