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Monday, 5 August, 2002, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Postal votes 'breach human rights'
A postal vote is sent
A breach of your human rights?
Fraud could swing a future general election if voting methods continue to change, says a millionaire councillor mounting a High Court challenge.

John Hemming, Liberal Democrat leader on Birmingham City Council, says allowing people to vote from home by post or internet breaks human rights laws on secret ballots.


If we keep on going down this route, we will get to the stage where the general election will be swung on the basis of fraudulent votes

John Hemming

The Electoral Commission last week said it had found no hard evidence of fraud in trials of new voting techniques in the May council elections.

Mr Hemming, who wants a judicial review of the issue, warns that postal votes were up for sale for 30 in parts of Birmingham, which did not take part in the trials.

So-called remote voting, where people do not need to visit polling stations, contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, says Mr Hemming.

Intimidation fears

The convention guarantees free and fair elections through secret ballot.

The businessman, who was part of John Towers' bid for Rover Cars, says postal and electronic ballots are a con.

Instead of secret ballots, other people can watch as votes are cast and there can also be intimidation from political activists.

John Hemming
Hemming: Will hear more in September
Mr Hemming told BBC News Online: "Not only are there elections in a number of cases being fiddled, but what the government is proposing is to open up the limitations so more and more fraud will happen...

"If we keep on going down this route, we will get to the stage where the general election will be swung on the basis of fraudulent votes."

Mr Hemming is also pushing for more identification checks amid fears that people are casting votes while pretending to be someone else.

Police inquiries

His court challenge is being backed one of the Conservative councillors in Birmingham.

The High Court is not likely to consider whether to hold a judicial review of the voting methods until September at the earliest.

Birmingham City Council has resolved to help continuing police investigations into claims of voting fraud and to recommend ways of preventing such abuses.

The council did not experiment with new voting methods in the May elections, although more people did vote by post.

In May, a report from the Local Government Association (LGA) echoed Mr Hemming's concerns about the legality of remote voting.

The UK was signed up to a number of treaties that require voting to take place in secret, said the report.

"These declarations and protocols call into doubt whether any form of remote voting, by electronic or other means, would be legal in an international context," it added.

The LGA, which is sympathetic towards new ways of voting, said the government might need to propose changes to international law or test the issue in the courts.

Offering choice

Not all electronic voting is "remote" - May's trials included electronic voting in polling stations.

The Electoral Commission said electronic voting methods had not boosted turnout, unlike all-postal ballots.

But failing to offer such choices in future could have an impact on turnout, said the commission.

Its report described government hopes of a general election using some electronic voting by 2006 as over-optimistic.

But it was a possibility for the general election after next, said commission chairman Sam Younger.

See also:

17 Jul 02 | Politics
17 Jul 02 | Politics
04 Apr 02 | Politics
18 Dec 01 | Business
08 Aug 01 | Politics
05 Feb 02 | Politics
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