by MONITOR
IT is not very reassuring that the highly respected Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust should have chosen to release its report, Purity of Elections in the UK: Causes for Concern on the eve of local elections in England and Wales and for the Mayor of London. The report says that elections in Britain fall short of international standards and very open to fraud. It criticises in particular what it calls the “antiquated registration system” and the “provision of postal voting on demand”. Postal voting is in disrepute. It was introduced to encourage participation in local elections for which the turn out is disgracefully low but it has not had the desired effect. Instead many people have seen it as a way of cheating at polls where even 50 or 100 votes can make a crucial difference. The 42 convictions in the past seven years and the heavy fines and even imprisonment that have followed may only be the tip of a very large iceberg. Clearly, the risks remain. Britain once again pays for not having a national identity card. The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust's view that British elections fall short of international standards is wounding. The British government is among the first to criticise deficiencies in electoral procedures elsewhere, especially in Third World countries, but apparently should first put its own house in order. A recent Council of Europe report on UK election methods commented that “Their vulnerabilities could easily affect the overall democratic nature of future elections in Great Britain. “