Vote-fraud has been a running theme in US elections, since the earliest days. Allegedly, even John F Kennedy was forced to make a corrupt deal to secure his own victory. Accordingly, allegations of fraud in the Trump-Biden election should come as no surprise.
However, is there something in the election system itself that encourages fraud? Are there election systems which inherently deter fraud? The answer to both those questions is, probably, yes.
However, all of this is relevant to the UK also – the UK could learn a great deal from the controversy surrounding the current US presidential election, about the need for electoral reform.
There are several electoral parallels between the US Electoral College system and UK First Past the Post parliamentary elections: –
- amplifying small numbers of votes, thus makes electoral fraud attractive,
- results often do not reflect overall votes cast and
- creates difficulties with multi-party elections.
These are the key issues: –
- The problem with postal voting
- The UK’s First Past the Post election system needs to be replaced, by a system that fairly reflects the overall votes cast – i.e. by proportional representation
Vote-Fraud and Cheating in the UK
the danger of electoral corruption and fraud is that it is presently hidden.”
All of the main parties have been caught cheating at elections. The following article is a brief but incredibly valuable account of some of the methods: Vote Early, Vote Often – by Nick Davies
Confidence about the fairness of elections has been lower in the UK than anywhere in Europe.
1) Postal voting
It seems a majority of countries have abandoned postal voting due to problems with vote-fraud (including France, from 1975). “Why do most countries ban mail-in ballots?”
Most countries have concluded the problem with postal voting cannot be fixed.
Why did Britain increase the amount of postal voting, under Tony Blair, when the UK already had a problem with vote-fraud in general, and postal voting in particular? Can the UK have a safe democracy with so many postal votes, when just a tiny number of votes determine the outcome of an election (see below). Perhaps integrity was not foremost in Tony Blair’s mind.
2) Replace First Past the Post with Additional Member proportional representation
There are three objections to the First Past the Post system.
i) The system is vulnerable to vote-fraud. In the current UK system, a tiny minority of votes in a few marginal seats determines the overall result; this means relatively few fraudulent votes in the right places can win crucial seats. By contrast, in proportional representation, winning extra seats would require roughly a thousand times more fraudulent votes which, quite simply, makes vote-fraud impractical and unrewarding.
In 1992, the election was won by just 1,241 votes in 11 key marginal seats. Out of 22 million votes cast, this represented only 0.006% of the total. This gives a huge incentive for vote-fraud – just a few votes in the right places can totally change the outcome.
A narrow victory can have decisive results. John Major used his 1,241-vote victory in 1992 to push through a series of desperately contentious measures, including joining the EU and closing Britain’s coal-mines.
ii) The overall result may not necessarily reflect the total numbers of votes cast. In the past two decades, the UK has had several elections where the winning party, receiving the majority of Westminster seats, did not have a majority of votes in the country.
iii) The system works poorly with multi-party elections, and excludes minor parties and the entry of new parties. The UK electoral system stopped working fairly since the UK became significantly a multi-party system.
In 2005, not a single MP was returned with the votes of a majority of registered electors.
A number of new parties have emerged over recent decades, and the First Past the Post system has prevented or delayed these from breaking into parliamentary representation, such as the Greens, UKIP and more.
The Additional Member proportional representation system has worked well
The Additional Member system was adopted for the Scottish, Welsh and London assemblies, and worked well in each case.
Tony Blair imposed this system on the assemblies because he hoped it would make them weak and indecisive, by creating a situation where no party would have an overall majority. In practice, however, the assemblies have been effective and succesful.
How does it work? The majority of seats are elected on a constituency basis, so voters have a constituency member to represent them (e.g. that they can write to with problems); the remaining balance of seats is taken from party-lists, allocated so the total number of seats for each party reflects the total number of votes cast.
There are criticisms of the party-list aspect of the system but it creates fair representation of total votes cast, to within 1-2% accuracy.
As described above, this attribute alone would solve the problem with vote-fraud.
Voter ID and Vote-Fraud
It seems likely official photo-ID may soon be required to vote at polling stations – this requirement has already been introduced, as a pilot, in a numbers of constituencies during 2018-19.
This is despite impersonation, or false identity, represented a vanishingly small proportion of vote-fraud cases.
However, it is likely to mean that many people have will difficulty voting, due to lack of adequate ID. On the basis of a pilot in Northern Ireland, it is projected that Voter ID will require rolling-out a national ID card system, at a cost of billions. In general, ID and databases are the not the primary problem with UK elections – these are a merely bureaucratic obsession, using the electoral system as a Trojan horse.
Why put so much effort into such a non-problem, yet disregard the systemic weaknesses of the UK electoral system? Perhaps to make it look like doing something, while wilfully ignoring the real problems.
Is change possible or realistic?
When the current electoral system so clearly benefits the major parties, why would they support any change? One answer is Scotland. Both Labour and the Conservatives have effectively lost representation from Scotland at Westminster, and the First Past the Post system is not helping. Labour, particularly, cannot achieve a majority at Westminster without votes from Scotland.
Labour still receives votes in Scotland, but currently these do not translate into Westminster seats; proportional representation would mean those Scottish votes for Labour would still count at Westminster, via additional members.
The current system could lead almost inevitably to Scottish independence – unless the electoral system is reformed, the next time there is a hung parliament, the SNP bloc of seats at Westminster is likely to be decisive, thus SNP demands would become irresistible.
Under a proportional representation system, the SNP would hold fewer Westminster seats and those it did would be less decisive – there would likely be a compensating presence of other minority parties, thus the SNP would be less likely to act as king-maker.
The Brexit referendum showed how an alternative voting format allowed representation of issues that had been suppressed within the current electoral system, by confining voting (mainly) to limited party choices. The result dramatically demonstrated voter dissatisfaction and the democratic deficit.
This was a shocking assault on the credibility of the main parties, which they are desperate not to repeat. Across the EU, Angela Merkel and other leaders cautioned against allowing the electorate the opportunity to express its true feelings. Such reactions are a terrible mistake.
Can the current system continue?
“Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable”
Electoral change would have to be preceded by acceptance within the political class that democracy has real value, and that the current system cannot continue.
It should be obvious to anyone with intelligence that the democratic deficit had allowed a very dangerous situation to arise. Despite the discomfort it caused, the Brexit result was a necessary step toward defusing this.
Lack of accountability has bred machinery that is not merely remote and inefficient but dangerously complacent and unreactive.
There is plenty of evidence, but can they accept it?