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This Standard Note covers the period 2001-09; for information about electoral fraud since 2010 see Standard Note 6255, Electoral fraud since 2010.

There have been many allegations of electoral abuse since the introduction of postal voting on demand in 2001. This note gives a brief history of postal voting including the all-postal pilots at local and European Parliamentary elections in 2004. The different election offences are outlined and the note also explains the means of challenging an election result by election petition. A chronology is given of recent developments including allegations of postal vote fraud at recent elections and subsequent court cases. Details of the provisions of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 to increase the security of postal voting are also given and the provisions of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 to introduce individual voter registration.

Following an application to initiate a monitoring procedure to investigate electoral fraud in the UK, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Monitoring Committee authorised a fact finding visit in February 2007. The opinion of the rapporteurs, which was published on 22 January 2008, was that ‘the electoral system in Great Britain is open to electoral fraud’ but ‘despite the vulnerabilities in the electoral system, there is no doubt that elections…are conducted democratically’. The Committee did not recommend opening a monitoring procedure at present but proposed that this should be initiated if ‘the vulnerabilities noted are found to undermine the overall democratic nature of future elections’.

On 28 April 2008 the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust published a report, Purity of elections in the UK: causes for concern. The report concluded that there has been a decline in public confidence in the electoral process and that there is a widespread view that ‘a fundamental overhaul of UK electoral law, administration and policy is urgently required’.

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