Vote tracing

Tony Bowden made this Freedom of Information request to Electoral Commission

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The request was partially successful.

Dear Sir or Madam,

In the Electoral Commission's "Handbook for polling station staff", at page 18, in the section "The secrecy of the ballot", it is stated that "The used ballot papers and the corresponding number list are only open to examination following a court order where there has been an allegation that an election offence has been committed. This is extremely rare."

I would be grateful if you would please supply specific details of where/when this has happened. As I am not sure what "extremely rare" actually means here, I am unsure as to how best to formulate this enquiry. If, for example, it has only happened twice in the last 300 years, then I would like as full details as you can provide on those instances, whereas if it happens on average once a year, then perhaps details of all occurrences in the last 10 years might be more appropriate.

If this request is too vague, I would appreciate your assistance in helping me formulate a better one, ideally with reference to what information you hold on this and would be able to supply.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Bowden

Heather Lardy left an annotation ()

The Electoral Commission's June 2003 report on 'Ballot Paper Design' states at para.4.7 that the Commission belives 'there have been six cases where vote tracing has been ordered by the courts in the last 10 years' but does not provide further details.

James Pack, Electoral Commission

Thank you for your query,

By vote tracing I take it that you mean occasions where a ballot paper
cast at an election has been traced back to the elector who is supposed
to have marked that ballot paper. This can only occur on the order of a

There is no central database of such applications or cases however we
are aware of some cases where this has occurred.

Two of these related to election petitions that have involved the
scrutiny of ballot papers by the Court in camera where electoral
malpractice is alleged to see who the allegedly fraudulent votes were
cast for. We are aware that it was done in the Slough 2007 election
petition as it allowed the court to show that fraudulently registered
voters had cast their vote for one particular candidate. We are also
aware that it was done following the local elections in Birmingham in
2004 where postal votes that had been fraudulently applied for or
completed were checked to the same effect. The third case was where West
Midlands Police obtained the necessary court order following a failed
election petition relating to the 2007 local elections in Coventry. One
person was subsequently convicted of two cases of Personation at two
separate polling stations.

Kind regards,

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Senior Adviser (Electoral Practice)

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Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0571

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Dear James,

Thank you for your response. I have also since discovered that in your document on "Ballot paper design" (available online at, at paragraph 4.7 on page 26, it is stated that: "We believe there have been six cases where vote tracing has been ordered by the courts in the last 10 years."

As this document is from 2003 it predates the three anecdotal examples you have provided. I would therefore ask that you provide further details on those six cases. Even if there is no central database of cases, presumably this number was not just made up off the top of someone's head, and the information does exist somewhere within the Commission.



Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed left an annotation ()

Both the Birmingham Judgment and the more recent Woking Judgment - where widespread election fraud was proved - are available on this excellent website.

It's clear that the judge, Mr Justice Mawry in each case - is contemptuous of the nonchalant attitude from the Electoral Commission.