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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Police to act on vote fraud fears
A vote being placed in a ballot box
Councillors have demanded a police presence
Police officers could keep watch at polling stations in the West Midlands amid fears about vote rigging.

West Midlands Police say they are considering the move after requests from city councillors.

They also say they have uncovered 190 potentially illegal votes in one inner city ward.

Birmingham's council polls were marred by fraud in 2004. An elections judge said the evidence he heard would "disgrace a banana republic".

This year there have been two arrests after police investigations into alleged vote fraud.

Councillors' demand

Last week, council leader Mike Whitby asked for a police presence at polling stations.

He said it would ensure the city's elections were "free, fair and clear of any illegal or corrupt practices".

His letter came followed a meeting between Conservative and Labour councillors and police on Friday.

The Liberal Democrat group did not attend the meeting.

Mr Whitby said in his letter: "Given that postal vote applications were highest in the Bordesley Green, Lozells and East Handsworth, Nechells, Springfield and Sparkbrook wards we would urge you to stand guard on each of the polling stations in these wards."

'Anomalies'

Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said the force was monitoring the situation closely.

He said police would decide on a case-by-case basis whether to place officers at polling stations.

Mr Hyde said specialist investigators analysing voting registration trends had found alleged irregularities over 190 postal votes in the Bordesley Green ward.

"Peculiar anomalies" in postal voting patterns in several wards were being scrutinised, he said.

Mr Hyde warned it was a criminal offence to try to vote using a false name.

"Everything reasonably possible will be done to bring to justice those who commit election fraud," he said.

The number of postal vote applications in the city has fallen from more than 70,000 in last year's general election to fewer than 60,000 for this election.

But there are increases of up to 30% in five wards.

Mr Whitby, a Conservative councillor, argued: "I believe the government's drive to gain an increase in election turnout by slackening the rules to apply for postal votes has in fact challenged the integrity of the result.

"I feel, rather the result be sacrosanct and honest then appealing for an extra 2% or 3% turnout by slackening the rules."

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