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Archive for April 11th, 2013

With all the ostrich-like denials that there’s no vote fraud problem in Tower Hamlets, I thought it would be useful to publish this guest post by Mike Cobb, a journalist living in the Bow Quarter development, off Fairfield Road.

The right to vote was a hard-won thing for many of us. It is only recent history that anyone under 21 could vote, and not much earlier than that that women could vote at all. So it comes as a shock when it appears someone has taken that right away from you.

This is what happened to my wife and I in 2012 when someone de-registered us from the electoral roll and registered themselves in our place.

We should have worked out that something was wrong when the forms for registration failed to arrive. (We thought maybe it was our punishment for failing to vote for the Mayor in October 2010.) However, we just dismissed it.

But then a voting card with the name of someone we had never heard of arrived in the post a couple of weeks before the election for London mayoral elections in May 2012.

So I rang Tower Hamlets council. I wanted to vote and also give the man whose name adorned the card I’d been sent his chance to take part: surely, he’d just filled in the wrong address. 

Tower Hamlets were very helpful, but not all that understanding of the situation.

It’s a little confusing at first to be told you don’t live in the home you’ve occupied continuously for 10 years. It’s even more so when told a man you’ve never heard of lives there instead.

But confusion became annoyance when we were told the person who had claimed to be living at our address had in fact de-registered us in the process of moving into our flat as the invisible man.

I was told perhaps a neighbour had done it by mistake. Tower Hamlets would put us back on the register and strike off the other person, as long as I sent them a mail proving this.

At first, this sounded reasonable and I hung up. But some thinking led me to a different conclusion.

The first thing that struck me was we’d lived in our home for 10 years and we knew our neighbours well and the man on the card, whose name was pretty memorable, was definitely not one of our neighbours. And he never had been.

Secondly, Tower Hamlets had asked us for proof that we lived here. Had the man who had registered himself at our address had to do the same?

I called back and pushed a bit. When had we been de-registered? I was told in November 2011. When they dug a bit deeper, the circumstances they gave changed too.

At first, I was told the canvasser had probably made the mistake, only to be now told the form had been filled in and sent back.

Hang on: a form that should have been delivered directly to my door had got into the hands of someone who didn’t even live in my block? And worse, while I was being asked for proof of address to be put back on the list, this person had required none.

I asked how that was possible.

There was confused mumbling down the phone; a belief that Royal Mail may have been at fault held no water with me. Even if the form had been delivered to the wrong address, it seemed unlikely that someone would go through the trouble of crossing people off a list and putting themselves on the list without at least checking they had the right form.

And why didn’t anyone at Tower Hamlets require the same burden of proof as I was asked for?

There was no answer to this one except that simply filling in the form was all it took. Different circumstances, different rules.

I put it to Tower Hamlets that the filling in of a form in the knowledge that you didn’t live there was fraud. And much to my surprise they agreed.

What didn’t surprise me was their solution. They would call the number on the form, a mobile, and see what the now de-registered person had to say for themselves.

I take my right to vote seriously. I can’t help thinking that if someone claims to live where they don’t so they can vote, and takes away someone else’s right to vote as a result, this is something for the police to investigate, not just a call to a mobile that probably doesn’t work.

When I pointed this out, I was told I could call the police myself.

Mild incomprehension greeted my explanation that it wasn’t me who was being defrauded but Tower Hamlets.

So that’s where I left it.

I’m told they will get back to me. And at the time of writing, I’m still waiting.

In the meantime I check under my bed, just in case my mysterious flat mate has taken up residence once more without telling me.

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