Peterborough's work to deter electoral malpractice has previously been recognised by the Electoral Commission and other national bodies. The city council and police are continuing this work with their electoral campaign this year.
At every election, the Returning Officer and the council's electoral services team carry out a number of checks and processes which have been developed over many years, with Cambridgeshire Constabulary, to prevent, detect and prosecute electoral offences. These include cross checking the signature and date of birth of every postal vote received, closely monitoring new applications to join the electoral register and verifying information provided.
In addition, if any postal votes cause concern, such as bundles of votes being returned together or by someone other than the voter, these are scrutinised and kept separate to other postal votes. They undergo the same stringent checks outlined above and if malpractice is suspected, they are passed to the police for investigation. Postal vote dispatch and delivery in high-risk areas is also supported by the police.
On polling day, presiding officers and polling station staff are trained on electoral legislation and risks in their polling stations and are made aware of issues such as family voting, where family members try and coerce a relative into voting in a certain way, and that photography is not permitted in polling stations.
Cambridgeshire Constabulary has once again set up a dedicated team to work jointly with the council to investigate allegations of electoral malpractice. Police will investigate any reports of corrupt activity. Allegations will be treated seriously and prosecutions will be brought if evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered. There will also be an increased police presence in the city on polling day.
Gillian Beasley, Returning Officer for Peterborough City Council, said: “People are entitled to use their vote in elections freely without fear or intimidation. That is why we work closely with the police for every election that we hold and go above and beyond our legal responsibility to ensure that the process is run as fairly as possible.
"Legislation dictates that we have to cross check the signature and date of birth of everyone who submits a postal vote. We go one step beyond to scrutinise the postal vote process and scrutinise bundles of postal votes returned. Postal votes returned are opened with forensic gloves and scanned and monitored to identify unusual patterns. Any concerns are referred to the police for investigation.
“This year, due to the pandemic, we’ve seen a 43.6% increase in postal vote applications compared to the last local elections in 2019. I can reassure residents that we are still carrying out the same stringent checks and applying these measures with rigour to ensure that any potential issues are flagged and residents can vote with confidence in our electoral system.
"If you are concerned that you are being asked to do something which could be illegal, or you're being forced to vote in a certain way, please call our election fraud hotline on 01733 452277, Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or the police on 101."
Detective Inspector Tom Rowe, from Cambridgeshire Constabulary, said: "We are working closely with the city council to ensure the elections in Peterborough run smoothly and in an honest and transparent manner.
"People can be rest assured that any suspected corrupt practices will be treated very seriously and action will be taken if any offences come to light. The electorate must have complete confidence in the integrity of the system and our operation will seek to ensure that's the case."
The city council has set up an electoral malpractice hotline and anyone who has any concerns can report them by calling 01733 452277. Any concerns will be referred to the police for investigation. Alternatively, if you believe an offence is in progress contact police on 999. For general enquiries about the elections call 01733 452249.
On Thursday, May 6, the city will vote for three categories including city council elections, Police and Crime Commissioner and The Mayor of the Combined Authority.