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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 March, 2005, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Warning over postal voting fraud
Postal vote
Voters will be encouraged to post or deliver their own ballot papers
A warning has been issued against any attempt at ballot-rigging through postal voting in the forthcoming general election.

The Electoral Commission has set out a new code of conduct for candidates and campaigners who handle postal votes.

The current system was denounced last week by a judge during a hearing in Birmingham into vote-rigging.

A commission spokesman said the move was part of a wider effort to improve the integrity of the voting process.

Chief executive, Peter Wardle, said: "Our code aims to strengthen the postal voting system so that people can be confident of the same standards of behaviour they expect at polling stations."

'Minimise fraud risk'

The commission stressed that the new code was not a response to the Birmingham case but acknowledged that action was needed to "minimise the risk or perception of fraud".

The guidelines, which are supported by all the main political parties, advises candidates and campaigners not to handle postal ballot papers or to help voters complete them.

Voters will be encouraged to post or deliver their ballot papers themselves.

If candidates or campaigners are asked to take a completed ballot paper, they should ensure that the voter has sealed it first and then immediately post it or deliver it to the returning officer.

They should also ensure that voters complete ballot papers in secret and then seal them personally.

Although it is only voluntary, the commission made clear that it would call for legislation if self-regulation by the parties failed.

The police and prosecuting authorities are being given advice on how local police forces should deal with any allegations of voting fraud which may emerge.

The commission is predicting that up to 15% of the electorate will choose to cast their vote by post in the general election which is expected on 5 May.

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