In the previous article in this series, “Thanet Rigged – Part One: Tory and Labour’s Great Love”, it was realised that if the numbers voting UKIP held up from the Thanet District Council election across to the Thanet South Westminster constituency election, then the Tories could not have won by such a large margin as they did (see Result P in Part One). In fact, it looks like the Tories could only have won the constituency election at all if hundreds of the people who had voted Labour in the council election abandoned that position to bolster Craig Mackinlay, the Tory Westminster candidate.
In the first instance, then, we need to consider how likely it would be that UKIP voters, who had elected their party’s first ever District Council, would pass up the opportunity to elect their party’s leader to a seat at Westminster. The author certainly doesn’t think it very likely at all. Then we must consider how likely it would be that up to 2000 Labour voters would turn Tory at a General Election. The author feels that this is something that is likely – some voters on either side of the fake political spectrum understand implicitly the nature of British politics and are happy to play along because it benefits them to do so; they would quite happily act to prevent anything happening that would disrupt the established system. Moreover, the Tory and Labour election campaigns in Thanet South more or less instructed their followers to vote tactically to deny Nigel Farage – most brazenly when Mackinlay appeared with the Labour man holding a “don’t let UKIP break our great love” heart. This dynamic means that the Tory win could very well have been organic (that is, as organic as rigging with a conspiracy to promote tactical voting can be) – but the author’s feeling is that perhaps the Establishment just couldn’t rely on an outbreak of naturally occurring “great love” and knew that it would have to help things along to ensure that the union would take place. This would especially be the case if, as mentioned above, any kind of convincing Tory win depended on UKIP-council-voter defections – we’ve already dismissed as not likely, and seen evidence to suggest that it didn’t happen.
Indeed, that someone physically meddled with ballot papers to engineer a Tory win by more than 2000 votes is a possible explanation for the extraordinary failure Thanet Council managed to achieve when it did not process the election in anything remotely like a reasonable timely fashion, nor in line with expectations set by performances in previous elections. In fact, fixing might be the best explanation we have – the people who ran the Thanet South election, even though they have produced an official statement as required by regulation, have failed entirely to provide a feasible reason for why certain postal ballot papers did not arrive at the count until 7 and a half hours after the polling stations had closed.
Not only was there a motive, then, there also existed on Thursday 7th May, in Thanet, the opportunity for someone to meddle with ballot papers. Furthermore, by examining the official statement made by the Thanet Returning Officer, Madeline Homer, we find that if anyone wanted to interfere with the election, then they had the means to do it. The Thanet South election was badly-staged – at least according to the information available to us. Because it is safe to say that it is so limited that it seems that we are actually being prevented from scrutinising what happened at Thanet South in the appallingly deficient statement made by Madeline Homer; it is obfuscation that effectively amounts to a cover-up. As the saying goes, proof of a cover-up is proof of a conspiracy, and we must consider the possibility that the extraordinary circumstances around the handling of postal votes, and the fact of what amounts to a smokescreen has been thrown up around those circumstances, combines to create grounds for suspicion of vote rigging.
But that’s only for starters. We must also throw into the mix the notion that there was pre-knowledge of the result as evidenced in particular by one corporate-media journalist whose “duping delight” seemingly got the better of her. Then there is the fact that in Thanet South there were 92 ballot papers rejected because of the lack of an official mark on them; in Thanet North this number was 105. The reader should type “’want of official mark” in a search engine and notice how many times it appears in conjunction with the number “0” – meaning most elections never see a ballot paper rejected for this reason. In fact, to illustrate how extraordinary this is, consider that in Thanet combined, this time, there were 197 ballots rejected for want of an official mark – that’s 31% of the total for the entire 2010 General Election when there were 640 overall. It’s another highly suspicious piece of circumstantial evidence.
It’s also been pointed out to the author that at the 2015 election there was a general trend in East Kent for turnout to fall from 2010 figures. Turnout fell in Ashford, Canterbury, Chatham & Aylesford, Dover, Faversham & Mid Kent, Folkestone & Hythe, Gillingham & Rainham, and Maidstone & The Weald – that’s 8 constituencies – by an average of 1.2%. In Thanet South, there was a 4% increase. (There were also increases in Rochester, 1.46%; Sittingbourne, 0.96% and Thanet North, 2.62%). 4% of Thanet South’s 2010 electorate (where boundary changes had already been applied thus having no effect) is about 3000 people. Could the evidence of disproportionate numbers of illicit ballot papers and trend-bucking turnout increases be telling a story of postal ballot fraud (the postal ballots seem to be the source of the problem) wherein enough bogus Tory voters are materialised after someone worked out how many were needed? Or did the fraudsters in fact spend those many hours when the postal votes were effectively missing swapping out Labour and UKIP votes for Tory ones?
Well, of course, this seems very fanciful, and the reader might be astonished at what might seem like a sudden outburst of nonsense, but the reader should appreciate that the author is writing from a perspective whereby he has spent some time looking into how postal ballots should be handled according to regulations, and how there were many exemplar councils who managed to handle them without seriously stuffing up their election counts. When the reader understands these things too, he or she should also arrive at the conclusion that there really was no good legitimate reason for things to play out in the Thanet South election the way they did. And if there are no legitimate reasons, then by default there must only be illegitimate ones – reasons that obviously can’t be admitted to openly.
Postal voting normality
The following information is gleaned from government-produced guidance documents for election staff entitled “UK Parliamentary general election and local government elections in England on 7 May 2015: guidance for (Acting) Returning Officers”, and specifically from “Part D – Absent voting” and “Part E – Verifying and counting the votes”.
It appears that postal ballot papers can be processed during the run up to an election day. The regulations seem to allow for sessions before the close of polling when councils can execute initial procedure on votes that have been submitted and accumulated since the issuance of ballot papers, or a previous session. Any number of postal vote opening sessions can be held according to requirements, and they can be held long before polling day. In fact, the guidance from the electoral commission (Part D) says this:
3.32 Your first opening session should be held within a couple of days of your first issue. Even if you have not received a high number of returned postal votes by then, you should still conduct a session at that time and take the 13 opportunity to test your equipment and assess your workflows under real conditions. After this first session you should gauge whether your estimate of the number of postal vote opening sessions required is sufficient or whether it will need to be revised. Nothing prevents the opening of postal votes being carried out on a Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday, and indeed you may wish to consider doing so, particularly if additional postal vote opening sessions are found to be required.
(Please note, a council is legally obliged to give election agents 48 hours notice of these sessions so that they can attend if so desire).
We have actually jumped the gun a little bit and need to back track. In this initial process of postal ballot opening, there are two sorts of receptacles that we need to concern ourselves with. The first is the “postal voters’ ballot boxes”. These are used to store returned postal vote packets – i.e. all the material returned by the voter in a covering envelope. The second sort of receptacle is the “postal ballot boxes” which are used to store the actual ballot papers after they have been extracted from the aforementioned covering envelopes. The moving of material from one set of receptacles to another is the process that is executed in postal vote opening sessions, and it is achieved in four steps (the titles of which are presented here the same way that they are in the guidance):
Stage 1: opening of the postal voters’ ballot box
All the postal vote packets that have been returned and collected in the postal voter’s ballot box are accessed at the same time. Each packet is opened, and each packet should contain something called a voting statement, as well as another envelope containing the actual completed ballot paper.
Stage 2: checking the personal identifiers
The voting statements will have the voters signature on it, and this is checked with a personal identifier record – or a copy of the signature that the council will already have in its possession. If all is well, then the envelope with the ballot slip in it goes forward to the next stage of the process.
Stage 3: opening of postal ballot paper envelopes
On opening the envelope containing the ballot paper, an official mark on that paper is compared with one on the envelope – the two should coincide. If the vote does not pass this piece of scrutiny it is rejected. If it is deemed safe, it is then placed in one of the postal ballot boxes. Note well, ballot papers are meant to be handled face down at this stage so that no indication can be got of how the vote was actually cast.
Stage 4: sealing the postal ballot boxes
The number of postal ballot papers to be sealed in each postal ballot box is recorded.
At this stage, the postal ballot papers are all ready to go forward to the verification and the count – referred to together as the count – which are the two features of the final electoral process that happens on election night after the polling stations have closed. Potentially, then, come the eve of the election, it should be the case that most postal votes will have been processed ready for the count. Of course, there is scope for packets to arrive late – but there are contingencies for this: the guidance stipulates that there should be collections of postal ballot envelopes when they arrive at the council in the mail, or are handed in at polling stations during polling day; it advises that such measures should be taken to “reduce the risk of delays to the start time of the count” – it makes sense, then, for as many postal votes as possible be processed ahead of the close of the polls.
The count takes place at a venue that has been appointed with a mind to realising guiding principles of speediness, accuracy and total transparency. The count venue is where ballot boxes are brought from polling stations and postal ballot boxes are brought from the place where they have been processed in the manner explained above – there are even guidelines about how the boxes need to be delivered so as to ensure integrity. Both sorts of box will have a record with them that tells of the number of votes they contain – we have seen how that comes to be the case with postal votes, and of course at polling stations, election operatives record the number of ballots issued to voters as they visit to cast their vote.
And so, armed with this information, during the verification, election staff work to establish that the number of ballot papers in any ballot box(es) is the same as the one recorded for it. Verification produces a figure with which the final count outcome must reconcile.
The postal ballot papers are potentially the very first to be processed in verification. They can potentially be on site at the Count Venue at 10pm when the polling stations close. In fact, the guidance makes a point of stressing the importance of the early verification of postal ballots:
4.9 All packets and ballot boxes containing postal ballot papers must be subject to verification in the same way as any ballot box from a polling station. As these will often be some of the first boxes being verified, they present an opportunity to create confidence in the process and in the count as a whole.
The count itself is self-explanatory to a certain degree – except to point out that during it, and indeed the verification, ballot papers are handled face-up to show the way the vote has been cast. Additionally, and it is of particular interest for our purposes, at this stage the ballot boxes are mixed together – the following is what the Part E guidance says about it word for word:
6.5 You must mix the ballot papers so that ballot papers from each ballot box are mixed with ballot papers from at least one other ballot box, and mix the postal ballot papers with ballot papers from at least one other ballot box before sorting and counting the votes.
This is a practice that is surprising to discover – the guidance offers no reasons for it (not that the author could find in any case) – and the reader is asked to take especial note. Another few things to notice before we move on are as follows.
Another important rule that must be brought to the reader’s attention is that a Parliamentary election has priority over local elections:
6.2 You do not have to wait until you have completed the verification for all polls for which you are the RO [Returning Officer] taking on the combined functions, before you can start counting the votes for the UK Parliamentary election.
And given that there is a desirability to begin the counting of the Parliamentary election within 4 hours of the polls closing (see Part E, 6.1) a Returning Officer should understand that there is a necessity to verify the Parliamentary vote before all other polls are verified.
What happened at Thanet South
With some of the official guidance now digested, we turn to the strange occurrences at Thanet on election night. In fact, people really understanding that a very odd thing had happened in the day after the General Election when the Thanet Council election results came in to confirm UKIP’s first ever district-level administration. People expressing themselves on Twitter under the motto #thanetrigged who thought it incredibly difficult to believe that Farage couldn’t win where his party was so triumphant also thought it odd that “journalist” Isabel Hardman seemed to know about the result at 12:38am on the Friday morning. “Very good source tells me”, tweeted Hardman, “Farage *has* lost South Thanet. I’d be surprised if they were wrong. But we’ll see.”
Before we try to comprehend this message any better, it is extremely important to understand just how very late the counting was at Thanet. The Returning Officer, a Madeline Homer, via her later-released statement, entered an official time of 6am on Friday 8th May as the moment when her staff began to count the votes for the Thanet South parliamentary election – although even on this supposedly simple fact, Homer is at risk of being incorrect. At the time, Ben Rossington, presumably of the Daily Mirror, tweeted the following at 7:17am:
THEY’VE STARTED COUNTING!!!! Whoo hoo. Thanet Sth result ONLY four hours away. Turn out 70%
On its own this doesn’t necessarily contradict Madeline Homer’s official statement – but the following, which was posted at 7:05 on a Telegraph live updates page, certainly does. It confirms that the count had indeed still not started at 6am
More delays in Thanet South, which Nigel Farage hopes to win, with officials disclosing that counting had still not started by 6am, pushing the declaration back to at least 10am.
In actual fact, the declaration finally came around 10:30am, meaning the count took 3 hours and (about) 13 minutes (going by Rossington’s tweet). Many have pointed to previous declaration times for South Thanet (1997: 3:12am; 2001: 3:33am; 2005: 4:44am; 2010: 3:17am) to illustrate the disastrously late declaration of 2015. However, the thing to focus on is the predicted declaration time of 6am which was published by the Press Association ahead of the election on a webpage dedicated to predicted times for all constituencies. Each time in this list was an estimation based either on council projections, or on previous declaration times; perhaps we should suppose that the prediction for South Thanet’s was got by the former method.
This 6am time is an important piece of information. From it we can perhaps discover how late the declaration time was as opposed to the Council’s own expectation. If the count took between 3 and 4 hours, which we know that it did, and if this was according to expectations, then the verification would have been anticipated to be complete between 2 and 3 o-clock. Theory is one thing, practice is another; we know from the council itself that verification did not start until after 5:30 am – that would be about 3 hours, perhaps, after it was supposed to have finished. These are the figures that really convict. 5.30 am, at the earliest – and especially given that there was no exit poll at Thanet South – would be the first time that anyone would begin to have any inclination about what the results looked like.
So, returning to the psychic Hardman, before the now infamous tweet, she actually posted the following on the Spectator’s live blog at 12:19am
I have intelligence from within Ukip that Nigel Farage has not won South Thanet.
At 5 hours before anyone at Thanet had even looked at a vote etched on a ballot pape there is apparently awareness of the result in certain quarters. Now, Hardman’s source could have been a UKIP one as she claimed, and then again, Hardman could have been lying – she is a “journalist” after all. The point is the certainty of the language pointing to the certainty of someone having foreknowledge of the outcome – pointing to someone being privy to face-up ballot papers long before anyone should have been able. Could this be true, and who would be accessing ballot papers who would tell corporate-media “journalists” [arguably intelligence agents] about it? (Another question is why would anyone cause the conjecture in an operation that wasn’t supposed to be noticed – to which the short answer would be “duping delight” – please look it up).
In regards to this mystery, the most interesting forecast came at 11:47pm – so earlier than Hardman’s – in the Telegraph’s live update website:
Christopher Hope is our man on the scene. He reports that UKIP and the Conservatives are saying it’s “tight” with less than 1,000 votes in it. There was a good Ukip turnout this morning, but Conservatives showed strongly later on. Ballots are still being validated, and no counting starts until 2am. The result is due at 6am.
Christopher writes: A Tory source said: “It is too close to call. We think it is definitely tight. They had a good start to day and we had a good finish.”
Most of the information in this report about what is happening at the count is very likely the parroting of a council announcement – so it’s a holding statement that doesn’t necessarily reflect any truth – but the very interesting thing is the report from the Tory source who knows that his party had finished well. We are supposed to think he is talking about a late surge at the polling stations. In fact, could he be talking about the actions taken to engineer the Tory candidate into a position of victory?
What we really need to do is to look at what Thanet Council did during the course of the night to explain why the declaration could have been so abnormally late (if there is a rational explanation, then there doesn’t need to be a conspiracy). Theoretically, at least, there is one place to look to ascertain facts that is not dependant on hearsay through tweeting or piece-to-camera-reporting “journalists”. This is the statement by a Returning Officer must explain him or herself should it have come to pass that the counting at his or her constituency did not start before 2am on the morning after election day.
As well as the one for Thanet North and South (which can be found here and here), completed by the same woman already mentioned above, there are lots of these on the internet – after all, there is a requirement by Act of Parliament to submit one of these things to the Electoral Commission and to post a copy on the local authorities web space. In these statements the Returning Officer has to explain two things: 1) what measures were taken to ensure that the count took place on time, and then 2) what actually went wrong in that process. We are going to deal with these in order with regards Thanet South, but before we do so, we are going to examine other examples of Returning Officer Statements from other constituencies chosen randomly, and we are going to concentrate on the handling of postal votes because this seemed to be the main issue for Thanet.
Reports by other Returning Officers versus that produced by Madeline Homer
The Returning Officer for Nottingham South (downloads) reported that she had a postal vote opening team that relocated (from council offices presumably) to the count location on the day. It seems that no ballot opening session had happened prior to the election day, but at 1pm, on the day and after the morning mail, the staff started processing all the envelopes they had by then received. We are informed that this involved scanning them with software networked from council offices as part of the identification process. Another session then occurred at 7pm, which meant that postal votes that had since accumulated at polling stations could be added to the process. This 7pm session continued after the polls closed and polling station staff had handed any late postal votes into the process.
The Nottingham Returning Officer notes that there was an unprecedented amount of postal votes handed in during the last few hours of polling. He also confirmed that the council’s most experienced staff were involved in dealing with the postal vote opening so that it did not impinge on the timeliness of the verification. Indeed, the Returning Officer reports that all postal ballot papers were handed over in plenty of time before the end of the verification process. The count started at 3.30am.
In Hemel Hempstead (statement here), where counting started at 3:55am, the Returning Officer reported that an adjacent room to the count location was used to process postal votes received on the day of the election – this suggests that the council had been processing them in the run up. In fact, there is confirmation in the other section of the statement (the “what went wrong bit”) where it was reported that the team had been “able to keep pace with the arrival of envelopes in the lead up to polling day, despite some early difficulties with software releases”. Secure internet had been established to “enable the remote use of election computer software” – so, like Nottingham South, they could use council-linked computers to process the postal votes. The Returning Officer reports that she expected 900 postal packages to be submitted to Presiding Officers at the polling stations – two sweeps would be made during the day to collect them. The prediction was close in the end – 1000 postal votes were processed on the day of the election and were ready to be included in the verification process.
At Stevenage (statement here), where the count began at 2:10am (because it was decided that staff should have a break at 1:45am when verification had finished), the Returning Officer reported an anticipation of a large proportion of postal votes. He reported that provisions had been in place to collect postal votes from polling stations and deal with them securely.
The Welwyn Borough Council’s Returning Officer (for the Welwyn Hatfield constituency – statement here) reported that postal votes were processed during the election ahead of polling day. “Throughout the election and on the day of the election, arrangements were out in place to process the volume of returned postal votes. On the eve of the election those received had all been opened, scanned, gone through the verification process and transported to the verification/count venue to be added to the ballot papers for counting after the final verification had been completed”. [It’s not clear here, actually, if the postal ballots went into the main verification process]. What we can take from this again is that the council in question had put in place measures to ensure that postal vote processing did not delay the count.
Now, what do we think that Thanet Council did? In the relevant section of the Returning Officer’s statement, Madeline Homer entered this:
Please refer to the chapter on “Factors influencing the timing of the count” within the count toolkit (starting at paragraph 3.12) as a guide for the types of steps which, as a minimum, should be covered.
Needless to say, this is an utter disgrace. Not providing information by which we can adjudicate as to the reasonableness of the lateness of the Thanet South count suggests that we would find that the information wouldn’t lead to any such conclusion. In other words, if it was clear that all things were in place to ensure a timely count, it would be very odd indeed if the count wasn’t timely after all. Because the statement by the Returning Officer doesn’t offer that opportunity, it can be said to constitute a cover-up.
In more trouble for Thanet’s hapless Returning Officer, it is declared in her statement that the official start of the count was at 6am. This is not what observers were reporting on the ground at the time, as we have seen. Nevertheless, she did manage to fill out the second section of the statement, which is the part about how her processes (which we weren’t allowed to know about) went wrong so that the count started after 2am. Homer made 8 points, which can be summarised as follows:
1. The fact that there were two parliamentary constituency, district and parish elections all on the same day impacted the time it took to complete the Verification.
2. “Virtually all the polling stations had three ballot boxes” – possibly meaning that there was one box for each election – “and each had very large ballot papers that took longer to unfold and therefore to verify”.
3. The turnout was up by 5% – or rather, this is what Homer claimed.
4. There was a delay in receiving ballot boxes from the Dover wards of the constituency. Additionally, Homer claimed that her team had to verify the district and parish election ballot boxes from the two Dover wards (plus in relation to the Thanet North election, the same from wards in Canterbury). However, the author wonders why these boxes did not go to the councils who have generally jurisdiction over those local elections.
5. This one is copied word for word, because it is so important:
“Postal vote delays – we did not get the verified postal votes back after verification by the postal voting team into the count centre until after 3:30am”.
6. Due to a limitation in space at the count centre, “all the late received” postal votes were not “verified” at the count venue. Along with 5, this is very important, and we’ll analyse it shortly.
7. Verification was not completed until after 5:30am.
8. The venue of the count was too small for the staff that the Returning Officer really would have liked. In other words, there weren’t enough people (120) because of the size of the count venue.
Most of these excuses are just not good enough. As we have seen, there is guidance for Returning Officers whereby warnings are given to prepare adequately for exactly the sort of problems being complained of. Once again, because we don’t know exactly how Homer implemented this guidance, we don’t know if the failings were due to a lack of foresight and preparation, or something else beyond the Returning Officer’s control.
Inferences from Homer’s statement – how the cheat might have been accomplished
The really important points to look at are 5, 6 and 7. Homer seems to be saying that the postal votes were not verified at the count venue; i.e. they were verified at another place before they were brought to the count. But which votes are Homer actually referring to? She reported that “all the late received” postal votes could not be verified at the count centre. Does she mean postal votes that came in during the day on polling day, or does she mean all postal votes that happened to come late to the count – so “all” or “some”. If it’s the former, then is she indicating that the postal voting sessions were held on polling day, and implying that this onerous task be the cause of the lateness? If the latter, would she actually be referring to the same lot of ballot papers in points 5 and 6 and thus be implying that this portion of the ballot papers in fact comprised a good many that took a long time to process?
As the reader must see – Homer’s statement is stunningly insufficient, although there are some things we can take away, with varying degrees of certainty. The first is that, possibly, lots of postal votes were introduced into the process on the last day. However, there should have been enough time in the day (and before the election day itself, for that matter) to process postal ballots.
Secondly – and this is for definite – an unspecified number of postal votes were out of the loop for a long time. There is really no normal situation not covered by the guidance by which any number of them should arrive at the count more than 7 and a half hours after the polls close. If they really were verified at a remote location, do we know that election agents and candidates were able to supervise this process as they would have been able to do at the main count? If not, this means that there would have been an opportunity to access the ballot papers outside of sealed boxes.
Summarising then, either a very large number of postal ballot packages were introduced at the last moment, or the postal ballot boxes were delayed by something extraordinary; the most likely case is the latter one. On top of this, we have the fact that all too conveniently the Returning Officer failed to account properly for the delay – meaning the extraordinary happening is not explained.
Nevertheless, we have, thanks to what Homer does impart, a better idea about how it would have been possible to cheat in the Thanet South election. If postal votes were handled without supervision, and they turned up at a count centre to be counted on trust that they were legitimate and the number of them conformed with a list of voters, it might have been possible to introduce ones that never came from a voter. Admittedly, that would be a risky avenue to choose given that all votes are meant to be accounted for (although, as we know and as has been demonstrated, in reality there would be no risk of an investigation that would discover any anomalies). It surely would be even easier to have a small team of people substitute votes from Labour and UKIP to the Tories by replacing ballot papers (from UKIP to a much lesser extent because Farage would have been expected to do very well, and it wouldn’t do to cause suspicion with a much-deflated UKIP result), or changing how the vote was cast on them. There would have been plenty of time to be painstaking in such an exercise. Likewise, surely there would have been plenty of time to attempt the following fix: wait until the end of polling and, noticing which postal voters hadn’t responded, produce votes on their behalf and introduce them into the process. Again, this would probably rely on an unsupervised postal opening session. If all else fails, then there are ways of electoral fraud that are already tried and trusted – ways that mean that the vote verification process doesn’t have to be commandeered or infiltrated.
Unfortunately, we will never know for sure if Thanet South was rigged or not, because we will never be able to look at evidence that isn’t circumstantial – we will never get to examine the ballot papers and supporting documentation that we think would be so damaging to the British Establishment. Ballot papers only have to be kept for a year before they are destroyed, and the seal that supposedly makes them inaccessible can only be ordered broken by the High Court or Parliament. Critics have in the past voiced concerns about how, in reality, security around the storing of ballot papers is inexcusably – deliberately – lax so that the authorities (intelligence agencies, police etc) could get amongst the old votes and see which voters voted for fringe parties. Apparently, it hasn’t also occurred that if intelligence agencies and police could do this at that point in the process, they could do it at any point. Apparently, it hasn’t occurred that intelligence agencies could use this above-the-law access to change the outcome of elections. Indeed, if intelligence agencies could change the votes, it would be more efficient to do so than searching through millions of ballot papers to discover “dangerous” individuals by how they are voting – especially when people are nowadays voting for a “fringe party” in their millions.