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The BBC's Carole Walker
"All the political parties are keen to boost turnout"
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The BBC's Rory Maclean
"Supermarket voting in Manchester"
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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Early start to local elections
A polling station
Early voting is being tested in many areas in England
Early voting is taking place for the first time in a UK election as part of a scheme aimed at encouraging more people to take part in ballots and improving access to voting.

Voters in Chester and in Redditch, West Midlands, are able to make their decision on Tuesday, ahead of the official 4 May polling day for English local elections, with special polling stations staying open until the weekend.

Early voting, also being used in other areas this week, is among a range of schemes introduced under the Representation of the People Act 2000.

Voters in one council ward will be able to vote in a supermarket, while other pilot projects include electronic voting, mobile polling stations for rural areas, an extension of postal voting, longer opening hours at polling stations and all postal ballots in some wards.

The schemes are being tested in a number of local authorities, although some only involve individual wards rather than the entire council area.

Local authorities will have to report back to the Home Office on the schemes after the election.

Longer opening hours

In Amber Valley, Eastleigh, Gloucester and Milton Keynes, some voters are able to vote by post if they wish, whereas previously they would have to show why they could not vote in person.

In some wards in Bolton, Doncaster, Gateshead, Norwich, Stevenage, Swindon and Wigan, there will be no polling stations or polling day, with voters all making their choice by post.

In Leeds and Mole Valley, polling stations will be open from 0700 BST to 2200 BST on 4 May, in line with opening hours in general elections.

Early and weekend voting is taking place in a number of areas, while Watford council is opening polling stations on the weekend after polling day.

And voting in supermarkets is being tested in Manchester, while a number of areas are using mobile polling in rural areas and also to provide elderly and disabled people with an alternative to postal or proxy voting.

Five councils are using electronic voting or counting.

Early voting for the London mayoral and assembly elections begins later in the week where the public will be able to vote at town halls.

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See also:

13 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Blair launches Labour election campaign
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dems plan election hat trick
06 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Hague kicks-off local election campaign
15 Dec 99 | UK Politics
MPs debate electronic voting
25 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Shadow boxing at the locals
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