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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 16:57 GMT
Observers to monitor UK election
Counting votes
The government wants to increase voter turnout
Ministers will invite international observers to check the forthcoming UK general election is fairly run.

The move comes amid claims the poll could be marred by electoral fraud.

A report by two MPs committees called on Thursday for urgent changes to the electoral registration system to combat vote rigging and boost turnout.

But in a written response to Labour MP Gordon Prentice, the government said it would normally invite observers to any UK election.

Fraud allegations

Junior constitutional affairs minister Christopher Leslie said: "I fully expect us to repeat our previous practice of doing so once the date for the next general election is announced."

The government has looked at ways of boosting voter turnout, which fell to 59% in the last general election in 2001.

It is vital that we move ahead with...individual electoral registration to safeguard the integrity of the Britain's electoral system
Oliver Heald
Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary

But trial all-postal ballots in four English regions last summer were hit by delays and some fraud allegations.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Greaves called last week for international observers at the general election - saying otherwise there could be months of court challenges "on a scale not seen since the 19th Century".

Thursday's report was drawn up by two committees scrutinising the work of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA).

It said that, with the growth of postal voting, there was a strong case to tighten up fraud protection by requiring voters to register individually, rather than by household.

It also said about three million people eligible to vote are not registered to do so.

Vanishing voters

Figures for the 2001 general election suggest 29% of people aged between 18 and 24, and 19% of black voters were not on the electoral roll.

Young people in shared accommodation are thought to miss out because no one acts as head of the household to fill in the form.

ODPM committee chairman Andrew Bennett said individual voter registration, as opposed to registration by household, should be quickly introduced as it could "dramatically reduce the chances of fraud".

But his counterpart on the DCA committee, Alan Beith, said it should be delayed "until measures likely to increase registration have been put in place and proved effective."

Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary Oliver Heald accused the government of "dragging its feet" over "this badly needed measure".

"It is vital that we move ahead with the Northern Ireland system of individual electoral registration to safeguard the integrity of the Britain's electoral system," he said.

'Gimmicks'

The report said individual registration should be treated carefully as 12% of voters disappeared from the electoral roll in Northern Ireland when it was introduced in 2002.

The report said the government should consider fines for unregistered voters, but accepted many experts said it would be an expensive system that would be hard to enforce.

It said incentives to register, such as 20 council tax rebate, were likely to be seen as "gimmicks" and risked undermining the integrity of the system, MPs said.

Instead they called for "imaginative campaigns" to boost interest.




SEE ALSO:
Judge hits out at postal voting
22 Mar 05 |  West Midlands
'Last chance' warning for voters
11 Mar 05 |  Politics
UK politics: Dead or dormant?
01 Feb 05 |  Politics
Council chief warns on vote fraud
18 Jun 04 |  Politics
More postal vote tests 'possible'
06 Aug 04 |  Politics


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