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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
New plans to combat voting fraud
Postal voting
Police are investigating postal ballot fraud across the UK
A new offence of fraudulently applying for a postal vote was promised in the Queen's Speech under plans to boost confidence in the electoral system.

The plans come after a judge said the postal voting system was "wide open to fraud" following a court case involving postal vote abuse in Birmingham.

The Electoral Administration Bill will introduce a marked register of postal votes received.

But the Tories say the changes are "tinkering at the margins".

Under the bill, observers will be given access to all stages of the electoral process.

Lowering age of candidates

This is intended to enhance the transparency and integrity of elections and bring the UK into line with other democracies.

Police in several parts of the UK are investigating allegations of abuse of postal votes but so far there have been no formal challenges to any of the recent election results in the courts.

The rules were changed in 2000 so anybody could ask to vote by post.

Under the bill, returning officers will be given new powers to run elections more efficiently and provide information at polling stations in languages other than English.

Younger voters will be able to stand for election at 18 instead of 21.

'Too little, too late'

Rules for candidates and political parties will be simplified and more parties will be encouraged to participate in elections.

The bill will also take forward many of the recommendations of the Electoral Commission watchdog, which aimed to improve the convenience and integrity of the electoral system.

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald said: "We welcome changes which will restore integrity in Britain's electoral system.

"Public confidence in our democracy has been shattered by Labour's fiddling with the system for partisan advantage.

"However, without individual registration, the government's plans will be tinkering at the margins - too little, too late."

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