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Last Updated: Friday, 6 August, 2004, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
More postal vote tests 'possible'
Postal vote
All-postal ballots have been dogged by fraud allegations
The government has refused to rule out more tests of all-postal voting schemes despite calls from an MPs' committee.

Local government minister Nick Raynsford said that further pilots would aid understanding of how all-postal voting affects behaviour.

He was responding to MPs' calls for a "firm decision" on extending the scheme after evaluating June's elections.

The MPs called for more security measures after electoral fraud claims marred the all-postal voting pilots.

The Committee on the Office of Deputy Prime Minister argued further anti-fraud measures be put in place before all-postal ballots are used again.

There were reports of party supporters collecting voting papers door-to-door and filling them in for local residents in areas where the scheme was piloted in the June local and European elections.

The scheme also saw a desperate bid to get the postal ballot papers out to the electorate in time for them to vote.

Unique pins

The select committee, which probes the department's work, also said the system of registering whole households should be ended.

Instead voters should have to sign up to prove their identity in return for a unique pin number which would then be entered on a signed form sent back with the vote, it said.

Mr Raynsford said the government accepted the need for extra security before all-postal voting was used more widely.

Local government minister Nick Raynsford
Mr Raynsford refused to rule out further all-postal ballot tests

"It is intended to undertake a consultation in the autumn following the Commission's evaluation of the June 2004 pilots," he said.

This could include a consultation on whether to introduce individual voter registration, the Office of Deputy Prime Minister said.

Changing the way people voted was not a cure-all for low turnout, Mr Raynsford said acknowledging that political parties needed to re-engage the electorate.

"That does not mean that we should ignore the fact that for many people traditional polling stations are inherently inaccessible and there is no excuse for making the fundamental right of voting difficult and inconvenient if there are better alternatives available," he said.

In its response, the Electoral Commission welcomed the committee's support of its own calls for extra security measures, tougher punishment for voting fraud and more help for disabled voters.

Polls postponed

Caroline Spelman, for the Conservatives, welcomed the proposals but said no further all-postal votes should go ahead until they were in place.

"We welcome that the government is looking to move ahead with individual electoral registration - as shown in Northern Ireland, it would significantly reduce the scope for electoral fraud.

"Yet, given such legislation cannot be introduced in time for the regional assembly referendum in November, the government should cancel the use of all-postal voting and restore the tried and trusted ballot box."

Think-tank New Politics Network said introducing a system of individual voter registration should be a "top priority".

Caroline Spelman MP
Mrs Spelman urged the government to cancel future all-postal votes

Its director Peter Facey said there may be "some merit in a pin system" to reduce the risk of stolen votes and impersonation.

But he added: "The ballot is secure 99% of the time and relatively small improvements to security would have a drastic effect.

"There is a danger in introducing too many layers of security that would have the perverse effect of reducing voter participation to little or no tangible benefit."

Residents in the North East region are set to vote on whether to have an elected regional assembly using all-postal ballots.

Similar polls in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber regions were postponed because of fears of electoral fraud.

Fraud claims mar campaign climax
09 Jun 04  |  Politics
MPs call to axe postal vote
17 Jun 04  |  Humber
Regional assembly votes postponed
22 Jul 04  |  Politics

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