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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 December 2006, 13:56 GMT
Election night dramas 'will stay'
By Justin Parkinson
Political reporter, BBC News

Bridget Prentice
Mrs Prentice said the UK was a 'very law-abiding' country
Measures to reduce postal vote fraud will not bring an end to the drama of election nights, a minister has said.

From next year, postal voters will have to write their date of birth and sign a form before returning it.

Critics fear this will delay results until at least the next day, making democracy less of a spectacle.

But Elections Minister Bridget Prentice said the change would not mean later results and that election nights would continue to "entertain".

Timings

Under the new rules, all voters applying for postal ballots will have to write their date of birth and give their signature.

They will then have to sign another paper when sending in their vote.

I feel for the staff who have been in polling stations from very, very early
Bridget Prentice

Critics say that the checks mean election counts will take longer and that results will have to be declared later.

But Mrs Prentice told the BBC that the timings would still be left to individual returning officers.

The ballots received by post would be separated from the signature sheets and placed in secure storage until election night, she added.

They would then be counted alongside votes from polling stations.

Mrs Prentice said there was a balance to be struck between keeping election nights as they are and ensuring the accuracy of counting.

She said: "I feel for the staff who have been in polling stations from very, very early... It's really up to the returning officer to decide [timings]."

She added: "There's decision between entertaining the journalists or letting people get a decent night's sleep and come back refreshed the next day to do the count."

New offences

New offences of supplying false information or falsely applying for a postal or proxy vote will also come in next year.

A marked register of postal votes received will also be set up, as the government implements measures from the Electoral Administration Act, which was passed by Parliament earlier this year.

The measures follow allegations of widespread electoral fraud, including vote-rigging, in the UK since postal and proxy voting were greatly extended in 2001.

A judge looking into vote-rigging in Birmingham's 2004 local elections said he had heard evidence of fraud that "would disgrace a banana republic".

Mrs Prentice said better security would help preserve "confidence in the integrity of the system".

The MP for Lewisham East added: "Democracy is not only about having the choice to vote but also about having confidence in the integrity of the system.

"These measures will improve security and introduce deterrents against fraud so that people have confidence that their vote will be cast and counted fairly."

Under the new system, returning officers and their staff will check about one in five postal ballots for signs of fraud.

If any is detected, the entire batch will be looked at.

Mrs Prentice said: "We are a very law-abiding country and most people value their vote and respect it.

"I think that we have a very good system."


SEE ALSO
Election night could be no more
25 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
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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