General election: Voter fraud claims are being 'weaponised' to spread Islamophobia, says think tank

Tuesday 3rd December 2019 15:30 GMT

Researchers at The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found the topic of voter fraud had risen in prominence in the lead-up the general election, often connected to anti-Muslim sentiment.

"We've amassed a great deal of data to show that voter fraud galvanises people against Muslims," said ISD researcher Jacob Davey.

"There is a real possibility that discussion of election fraud and voter ID will be weaponised in this general election, resulting in harassment of Muslims."

Both the Brexit Party and the Conservative Party manifestos pledged to reform the electoral system in order to tackle fraud and corruption.

Since 2010, there have been over 500 complaints about electoral malpractice, but only nine cautions and two convictions, with electoral observers finding no evidence of widespread electoral fraud.

The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment, but has said voter ID is necessary to "protect the integrity of our democracy."

The Brexit Party declined to comment. Speaking at the launch of the party's manifesto, party leader Nigel Farage focused on the need to reform the postal voting system, saying it had been "totally abused".

The ISD found that the key focus of online discussion of voter fraud was June's Peterborough by-election, which was narrowly won by Labour, with the Brexit Party in second place.

In July, a police inquiry found no evidence of malpractice on five allegations of voter fraud.

Despite this, the ISD found accusations that the election had been fixed gaining prominence on social media in the lead-up to the general election.

In August there were 547 posts about the topic. In October there were 9,430.

Mr Davey said that although the circumstances were peculiar to the UK, the overall narrative was familiar from other countries.

"This forms part of a broader trend," he said.

"We saw very similar narratives unfold in last year's Swedish election, and it appears that this is becoming a trope which anti-Muslim actors are drawing on globally."

Immediately after the Peterborough by-election the issue of voter fraud became prominent on social media, linked to anti-Muslim sentiment.

On 8 June, two days after the by-election, 48% of the 13,418 tweets sent on the topic discussed voter fraud.

Six of ten most active accounts had recently posted or re-tweeted anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant content, the ISD found.

Forty per cent of the tweets shared a link to a petition calling for an investigation into allegations of postal vote fraud.

An ISD analysis of 811 comments on the petition found that 42 referenced the Muslim community or immigrants as the reason for signing, with some saying that the Labour Party was collaborating with Muslims to "destroy democracy".

Accounts promoting the topic of voter fraud in Peterborough include right-wing publication Politicalite, which was recently banned from Facebook over violation of hate speech policies.

The Brexit Party has questioned the result of the Peterborough by-election, although its candidate dropped a legal challenge shortly before the general election.

"There was never a shred of evidence to back up the Brexit Party's entirely false claims about voter fraud," a Labour Party spokesperson told Sky News.

"The Brexit Party, which is now in a pact with the Conservatives, has spun a false and dangerous narrative vilifying Muslim communities and minorities in Peterborough, as part of their agenda to fuel hatred and division," a Labour Party spokesperson told Sky News.

Beki Sellick, Liberal Democrat candidate for Peterborough said: "The police enquiry concluded that all allegations of malpractice were unfounded. I think we should respect our hard working electoral registration team and police officers."

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