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Crackdown on postal vote fraud

3 March 2006

It will be a criminal offence to supply false information, or fail to supply information, to the electoral registration officer, under new laws to combat postal vote fraud.

In total, 14 new measures are to be introduced in time for local elections in May this year under the Electoral Administration Bill. These include a new offence of falsely applying for a postal or proxy vote, and of exerting undue influence on a voter.

The tougher laws, announced this week by Elections Minister Harriet Harman, follow a massive postal vote fraud involving six Labour councillors in Birmingham in 2004. In a subsequent hearing, deputy High Court judge Sir Richard Mawrey QC called the postal voting system “hopelessly insecure” and accused the government of being “in denial” about the problems. “There are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been,” Mawrey said.

The new Bill will give the electoral administrator a ream of new powers, such as checking signatures and addresses of postal voters against information held by local councils. They will also write to all applicants for a postal vote, acknowledging receipt of their application and will publish a list of all those who voted in this way after an election.

To increase security, ballot papers will have a special mark and bar code for quick checks, while voters going to a polling station will be asked to sign for their ballot paper. The police will also have the time in which they can investigate electoral fraud increased from one to two years.

Announcing the new measures, Harman said: “Everyone in every community in any part of the country is entitled to their vote and to know that their vote is counted as they cast it. Electoral fraud is extremely rare. But fraud in any area, in any election, national or local, is a problem because it undermines confidence.”

Harman was speaking at the publication of new guidance on postal fraud prevention by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Electoral Commission.

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