Tower Hamlets also experienced problems with voting in 2014 Pic: RachelH_ (Flickr)
Democratic voting campaigners have reported “unacceptably high” levels of ‘family voting’ during the Tower Hamlets local elections on May 3.
Democracy Volunteers, an NGO which monitors elections, visited 39 polling stations on the day of the elections and identified this practice in 58% of polling stations on 74 occasions.
‘Family voting’ is a breach of the secret ballot and typically refers to when a husband and wife attend a polling station together, which can lead to someone being told who to vote for.
The borough Council has put in place a number of precautions to avoid a repeat of the 2014 mayoral elections in which Lutfur Rahman won and was later removed from office in 2015 due to illegal electoral practices.
Each Tower Hamlets polling station was equipped with exclusion zones as well as police officers wearing body-worn cameras to ensure fair voting.
Councillor Andrew Wood told EastLondonLines: “While the 2018 elections were better conducted than in 2014, there were still a number of issues which meant the elections were not 100% free and fair and there are still a number of issues which need to be resolved.
“Tower Hamlets still has a lot of work to do to restore its reputation and to ensure that the next set of local elections in 2022 are better conducted.”
A member of the observation team said: “Family voting is a definite concern in Tower Hamlets. At the best-run polling stations, the Presiding Officers kept an active watch for potential cases and took steps to prevent it happening. They took care to issue ballot papers to family members one at a time, and then direct them to polling booths in different parts of the room.
“With three members of polling staff, this meant that while two clerks checked the register and issued papers, the PO could remain vigilant for possible family voting or other problems.
“All the observed cases of family voting took place when the PO was absent or distracted, or their attention was elsewhere.”
Will Tuckley, chief executive of Tower Hamlets council, told The Evening Standard: “The issue of someone assisting a family member to cast their vote is complex and not as simple as it may seem. We are confident that it was not a significant factor at the most recent election but we will continue to take steps to reduce its prevalence in future.
“Specific training was provided to all presiding officers. The Democracy Volunteers report acknowledges that in the ‘vast majority of cases’ staff stepped in to protect the secrecy of the voting process.”
The report released by the Democracy Volunteers said that: “Family voting is a specific problem, on a very large scale, in Tower Hamlets. More public information should be provided to discourage this as well as staff needing to interrupt their own work to intercede when they see it. We believe specific posters should be used to demonstrate how this should be done.”
The report also mentioned two other recommendations including sealing the ballot boxes with the required number of ties and creating larger exclusion areas.