General election: Voting fraud allegations in Foyle constituency
Northern Ireland’s chief electoral officer and the PSNI have appealed for anyone with information about alleged voting fraud in Londonderry to come forward.
Allegations having been circulated widely on social media over the weekend that a black bin bag containing postal and proxy voting forms as part of an attempt to steal votes was found in a fast food outlet in the city at the end of last week.
The allegations – which have been posted on the West Belfast DUP association’s Facebook page among many other places – stated that the bag had been found in a takeaway in William Street and contained “a template on how to complete [the forms] and numerous names and addresses of potential voters”.
The Facebook post, which included photos purportedly of some of the forms, said that one of the template forms had the address “123 Sinn Fein Street” and that many of the forms had been filled in and signed, along with “a list of inactive voters names being registered and proxies put In without their knowledge”.
Chief electoral officer Virginia McVea told the News Letter that she was aware of the post. She said that she had been contacted by the PSNI over the weekend and that she understood that police had made a call for people to come forward because no report was made to them about the issue.
Ms McVea said that “there have been no complaints to me – I haven’t received any report, bar the press coming to me” and it was “absolutely vital that any members of the public who have any information about this incident or any others come forward”.
She added that people should also go directly to the PSNI, who have greater powers to investigate and charge people if necessary. Ms McVea stressed that those who have a genuine reason for applying for a postal or proxy vote are “fully entitled” to it and should not fear applying for one.
In the wake of the last general election, there were a series of allegations – from the SDLP, DUP and People Before Profit – that Sinn Fein benefited from stolen votes in Foyle.
However, Ms McVea said that while there had been considerable media and social media coverage of the alleged fraud, there had not been people coming forward with evidence to charge anyone.
She said: “It is absolutely essential as we seek to ensure the most robust system possible – but also to ensure public confidence – that people come forward to share what they know as opposed to just circulating the concerns.”
Ms McVea said that for the first time in a general election her office in Belfast would “directly” process all absent voting applications.
PSNI Derry City and Strabane District Commander Gordon McCalmont said no report had been made to police but he was aware of the claims. He added: “Inquiries are ongoing, and I would encourage anyone who has information about this to get in touch with us.”
Foyle DUP candidate Gary Middleton said that the Electoral Office and the police needed to ensure that the public had full confidence in the election.
He said: “Between the general elections in 2015 and 2017 in Foyle there was a near 300% rise in the number of proxy votes with nearly 1,000 extra votes cast in this way.
“There is a real need to instil confidence in the electoral process, particularly in the Foyle constituency. That is why these most recent revelations must be investigated thoroughly and quickly.
“The Electoral Office must demonstrate that proper checks are in place to prevent fraudulent applications being processed and the PSNI must establish quickly whether any criminal actions have taken place ... The Foyle seat will be one of the most keenly contested during this election. It is vital that the election is not decided by electoral fraud.”
When asked if Sinn Fein opposed vote fraud and if any of its members were involved in the Foyle bin bag incident, the party said: “The right to vote in the north was hard won. Sinn Fein, like other parties, assist and encourage people to exercise their democratic franchise and would oppose any attempt to deny that right.”