Why Election Officials Are a Law Unto Themselves; ANALYSIS

Article excerpt

Byline: HEATHER BROOKE

ANYONE trying to find out what preparations were made for Thursday's General Election would have encountered a wall of silence from the public officials in charge.

I know because I made these enquiries last year. I wanted to know how local councils were registering people to vote and whether the number was going up or down and why.

I wanted to know if there was any truth to a Data Sharing Review instigated by the Cabinet Office that stated voter registration was down due to worries that marketing companies would get voters' names from the electoral role and send junk mail. The review recommended scrapping the publicly available electoral roll so only state officials and some private companies could access it. The Government took up this recommendation and there is a consultation in place to abolish it. This is of great concern. In a democracy it is essential that people can see who is registered to vote and where. Why? Well for a start, officials rarely expose voter fraud, it is normally ordinary people or the Press - it was a reporter who found there was only one occupant at a Tower Hamlets address where eight Bengalis were registered to vote.

From my queries to local councils I discovered the recommendation to abolish the roll was based on fiction. Voter registration was not going down.

This was made clear by the turnout at Thursday's Election, up from 61.4 per cent in 2005 to 65.2 per cent. But I discovered something more disturbing. The officials charged with compiling electoral registers and running elections were accountable to no one.

Local councils do not publish information about electoral preparations so it was only by making Freedom of Information requests that I could get answers. I made requests to every council in the UK. I received from them all a version of this response from the London Borough of Barnet: 'The Electoral Registration Officers are not answerable to the Council in respect of their electoral responsibilities and duties, which are carried out in their own personal capacity. …