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Last Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006, 18:26 GMT
Anonymous votes for those at risk
Ballot box
The government is trying to boost voter turnout
People whose safety is threatened can vote anonymously for the first time, under new rules to boost turnout.

Domestic violence victims are among those expected to benefit from changes under the Electoral Administration Act.

Their names will be kept off the Electoral Roll - instead they will be represented by a number.

The changes, finalised on Monday, also see the relaxation of rules for people who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Harassment order

Voters requesting an anonymous vote will have to provide evidence that they are under threat.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) said this might include people with an injunction against someone, a protection from harassment order or a restraining order.

People who can provide written evidence from people like police chief constables or social services chiefs will also be considered.

Everyone who is eligible and registered has the right to vote so it's important that they can and do so
Bridget Prentice
Constitutional Affairs Minister

At the last general election fewer than two in three people eligible to vote did so - voter turnout was 61.3% across the UK.

Local and European elections are even lower, with turnout in some areas falling below 20%.

The changes are part of a drive by the DCA to boost voter numbers generally and to make it easier for those with special circumstances to take part.

They also allow people who have been sectioned involuntarily under the Mental Health Act, but are not criminals, to vote in person at polling stations, as long as the hospital grants permission.

Constitutional Affairs Minister Bridget Prentice said: "Elections are at the heart of our democratic process. Everyone who is eligible and registered has the right to vote so it's important that they can and do so.

"The Electoral Administration Act will help do this by promoting better and equal access to elections for all. "

New offences

Other changes include allowing 18-year-olds to stand for election - previously candidates had to be at least 21 - and allowing people to register up to 11 days before polling day, rather than six weeks.

And moves to tighten up security in the wake of a series of allegations of postal vote fraud.

It also confirms moves to put loans to political parties on the same footing as donations, following the "cash for honours" allegations. It means all loans of over 5,000 have to be reported to the Electoral Commission.

Two new offences - supplying false information or failing to supply information to the electoral registration officer - have been created.

And all postal vote applications must include signatures and dates of births, in an effort to ensure the person applying is the genuine voter.


SEE ALSO
UK post vote fraud claims probed
18 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
Web and text vote trials dropped
06 Sep 05 |  UK Politics

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