Widespread attempted ‘family voting’ observed at Peterborough by-election as polling officials praised

A polling station at City College Peterborough at the recent by-election
A polling station at City College Peterborough at the recent by-election

Concerns have been raised by the high levels of attempted ‘family voting’ which were observed at the recent Peterborough by-election.

A new report released by election observation group Democracy Volunteers said it had witnessed two voters heading into the same polling booth together at 11 of the 23 poling stations it had observed on June 6.

However, today’s full report praises polling staff and police for intervening, while the city council is commended for the “excellently conducted election by the officials”.

Labour’s Lisa Forbes won the by-election by 683 votes ahead of the Brexit Party candidate’s Mike Greene.

Dr John Ault, executive director of Democracy Volunteers, said: “Family voting is when we see two voters in a polling booth together which allows for collusion, discussion or oversight of how the other person votes.

“In Peterborough we saw it at a lot of polling stations across communities.

“Peterborough has quite a lot of arrangements to deal with it. Staff were prepared to intervene. Peterborough was clearly active in dealing with it.

“It’s something that happens quite a lot in elections.”

Dr Ault said family voting was seen in both the city centre and in villages.

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Democracy Volunteers sent a team of four observers registered with, and accredited by, the Electoral Commission to Peterborough and made 23 separate observations across 44 different polling stations - approximately half of the polling stations in the area.

Although the council was largely praised for its running of the voting process, concerns were raised, notably due to three occasions where voters were seen photographing their ballot papers.

The report states: “It is a concerning practice which presiding officers did not seem to see or intervene in despite the presence of signs to discourage photography.”

Photographing ballot papers is not illegal, but breaching the secrecy of a vote is.

Moreover, Democracy Volunteers said on two occasions observers “identified literature within the polling station which was biased towards one candidate”, while on other occasions party officials and tellers were seen given assistance to voters.

An observer team noted: “One teller entered the polling station with an elderly lady and walked her to the booth. We assume directing [her] how to vote as he had his rosette in his hand to show her.’

Overall, though, Peterborough is praised for how it ran the by-election.

The report concludes: “This was an excellently conducted election by the officials. Presiding officers and poll clerks were very welcoming and friendly to both voters and the observer groups, and we would like to thank all those that helped in our work.

“However, as our preliminary statement indicated, we continue to be concerned about ‘family voting’ in the UK as well as the emerging concern of some voters taking photographs of their ballot papers.”

Dr Ault added: “Peterborough ran a good election. The problem is the public don’t necessarily conform to all the rules because they don’t know all the rules.”

Democracy Volunteers will now meet Peterborough City Council to discuss its findings and recommendations.

A council spokeswoman said: “Dr Ault had not made contact with us to raise his concerns, however, we have contacted him and he is coming to Peterborough to meet with us next week.

“We are aware of this report and when we meet with him we will be speaking to him about his findings.”

The Brexit Party announced today (Monday) it will be filing a petition with the High Court as it calls for an investigation into the by-election.

The full report can be read on the Democracy Volunteers website.