National Alliance Against Tolls - Dunfermline 2006 By-election - Complaint to Returning Officer

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Dunfermline 2006 By-election - Complaint to Returning Officer

When, on the 25th January 2006, I applied to the Returning Officer to become a candidate in the Dunfermline and West Fife By-election I handed in to him together with my 500 deposit a series of standard forms properly completed. One of these forms, Form 8 is a request form for "a copy of the revised register of electors and any notice of alteration to it". To me as a layman what I would expect to get from my Form 8 application is a comprehensive list of all currently registered voters in the constituency or a list of the current electorate up to a recent date with a note of amendments or alterations to that list.

In due course I received a C.D. containing all 72,000-odd electors in the Dunfermline and West Fife constituency. However it appears that the electoral register data that I was given included about one thousand people who were not eligible to vote due to the fact they were under-age. Also within the list I received were an as yet unknown number of deceased persons, not least of who were my late mother-in-law who died on the 14th January and the late MP for Dunfermline and West Fife who died on the 6th January.

By way of explanation I should say that my concerns that the data known as the revised register of electors was something of a misnomer first arose when I was advised by my wife that her late mother's voting papers had been delivered to her previous residence, a house where she had not lived for some six months and not the address that appears for her on the revised register of electors. Luckily in this instance the house is owned by my wife and we were able to ensure that the voting papers were not used by another person.

However it was not until a family acquaintance told me of his 17-year-old daughter being given voting papers and having voted that I began to harbour grave doubts about the propriety of the revised register of electors. The 17-year-old-girl who had voted gave me the names of two of her cousins who had also received voting papers and after having checked the fact that all three of these people featured on the revised register of electors I decided to examine that document more closely.

Over the last few days I have looked into this matter and while I have not carried out a comprehensive review of the data supplied to me by the Returning Officer it is apparent by a simple search of the document that at the time of the by-election at least 952 people who were under the age at which they could vote appeared on the revised register of electors. I know this because 951 of these people have the date when they celebrate their eighteenth birthday stated on the register, and the other one person is the 17-year-old-girl who voted, but whose eighteenth birthday data is not stated on the revised register of electors. I was also able to find out today, again by a simple search the fact that the previous MP Rachel A. Squire and a considerable number of other deceased persons appear on the revised register of electors.

Anecdotally I am aware of a Labour Party canvasser who telephoned a 17-year-old youth to ask for his vote and if he needed transport to the polling station. The call was taken by the youth's mother who made it clear that thought her son had received election mailings he was still 17. The mother told me of how the canvasser seemed dismissive of this "technicality" and pressed the mother to ask her son to attend the election and vote Labour. This evidence is given to me by a relative whose word I would stake my life on.

I have formally advised the Returning Officer of most of what I set out above by way of a complaint and I have also asked the Electoral Commission to advise me of a way of complaining about the incompetent practices of the Returning Officer by means other than complaining to the Returning Officer. I note that in the Mail On Sunday yesterday the Returning Officer is quoted as saying "If we are provided with hard evidence that someone has voted who should not have done, then a full investigation will be carried out." This simply is not good enough. I have given the Returning Officer the details of erroneous information in the revised register of electors and have given him details of my late mother-in-law's voting papers and details of the 17-year-old-girl while keeping her identity secret. This should be evidence enough for him to establish the extent of the errors in the register.

I have today also given the Returning Officer the 17-year-old-girl's name on the basis that this information will be treated confidentially, and have asked the Returning Officer to confirm or otherwise whether the girl voted. But it is in my opinion wrong for the Returning Officer, a well paid public servant to in effect say "prove it"-- "prove someone voted who should not have". This rather misses the point and apart from the fact that he ignores the question of dead persons being sent voting papers he shifts the onus onto me to "prove it". I will take him up on his challenge and will prove it, but I would remind him that as a public servant it is incumbent on him to keep proper records by way of a revised register of electors and to issue these to candidates of the political parties in an election. He has failed to do this not only to me, but presumably, to all of the parties to the election.

In my latest letter of today's date to the Returning Officer I am asking him to come clean. I have additional information proving deficiencies in the revised register of electors and in due course if it is necessary I will reveal it. I do not think it fair however that the innocent victims of the deficient revised register of electors (especially those who have lost loved ones) should come under the pressure and scrutiny that will necessarily follow my revelations regarding the dead and under-age voters on the register. Without the benefit of any party machine or staff I have identified a very serious situation that might cast the entire by-election process into doubt. The Returning Officer, with access to the vast resources of Fife Council should be able to easily, and quickly quantify the extent of the problem, and in the public interest he should do this and make it public without delay.

For the avoidance of doubt I am not scoring cheap points, doing this for the fun of it, or dealing with a trivial matter. I attribute the unsatisfactory state of the revised register of electors to the Labour Governments unseemly rush to the polls within days of the death of the sitting MP. This dash to the polls appears to have resulted in data not being updated which in turn accounts for the large number of under age/dead voters appearing on the revised register of electors. As I understand it the Returning Officer had it within his power to delay the election until the revised register of electors was amended to reflect the people who had died in the year (or period when the register was last revised). The fact that he appears not to have done this is a matter on which others may have to judge him.

Presumably, as was the case with my late mother-in-law election papers were issued for these people and this concerns me. It raises the prospect of the type of situation which existed in Northern Ireland in recent times where armed with the voting papers of the dead, political crooks were advised to "vote early and vote often". Also the as-yet unquantified extent of under-age voting may give the claim by Nicol Stephen that the Lib Dems won because they captured the young vote more truth than he knew when he said it.

The matters I raise are serious ones and should be treated as such. The Returning Officer must say how many dead voters and how many under-age voters exist on the supposed revised register of electors and - if all - or how many of them - were issued with electoral papers? He should do so without delay or equivocation.

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