an issue in what are sometimes called "emerging democracies", the countries where "election monitors" are likely to be called in. Very few people think of them as necessary elsewhere, or even believe that they are necessary. Perhaps however it is time to rethink the accuracy of our own elections.
I say this because yesterday I had an uncomfortable and disturbing experience.
I had to go to the local library. When I came out of the library there was a couple, perhaps in their late sixties or early seventies, standing by my tricycle. There is nothing unusual about that. People sometimes ask where I got it, what it is like to ride etc. There are more tricycles around than there used to be and I like to think I have sold the idea to at least several people.
I did not know the couple. I had never, to the best of my knowledge, seen them before. It would not be the first time I had been accosted by complete strangers wanting to know about my transport.
But this couple wanted to talk about something quite different and they were obviously finding it extremely difficult. They started out by asking whether I was "the person who wrote the letter about voting yesterday". I had written a letter about the electoral process the day before so I said yes.
They looked at one another and then the man said, "We need to talk to someone. We don't know what to do."
I wondered if they had forgotten to vote but it turned out to be very much more serious than that. They were accusing their daughter of electoral fraud. She works in a nursing home and she had boasted to them that she had, among other things, filled out ballot papers for patients who were no longer competent to vote.
I will not go into details. It would be all too easy to replicate what they alleged she had done.
I had to explain that yes, it was wrong. I also had to leave them with the decision of whether to report their daughter. It's not a decision I can make for them. I doubt they will go that far but I can see that it is a problem that is going to cause them a great deal of unhappiness.
I cannot remember the details now but it reminded me of a claim that was apparently made by a family some years ago. I think it was for a state election. There were headlines in the paper about a family who claimed to have voted over one hundred times. It was even claimed that one of those involved was not old enough to vote. I think the Electoral Commission investigated that claim fairly thoroughly but I wonder how far they got. If the claim was true how did the family get away with it?
Our voting system can be manipulated in more than one way. Our system of compulsory preferences ensures that some manipulation will take place. But it is not the only problem which occurs.
I went to vote last Saturday. I gave my name and address honestly and I answered the question about whether I had voted before in that election honestly. But, nobody asked me to prove I was me and I could have voted half a dozen times before. Unless someone sits down with the electoral roll and goes through every copy by hand and compares them with every other copy then nobody is going to know whether I voted once or twice or more often. It is even of even greater concern that someone could walk into a polling booth and pretend to be me. They could steal my vote. They could negate it by voting the opposite way. If a thorough check was made how would anyone know whether I was telling the truth if I said I had only voted once?
Our electoral system is not free of fraud and manipulation.