Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Straw ends poll station axe plans

Polling station
The working paper proposed many polling stations could close

Proposals to close thousands of polling stations and cut voting hours to save money are "simply unacceptable", Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said.

He has ordered officials to abandon the proposals reported in the Times and which his department had said were only ideas for further consideration.

Ideas in a government working paper reportedly included cutting voting hours and polling staff.

Concerns had been raised that the plans could put off voters.

Other possible options - part of plans to save up to £65m - were said to include replacing polling cards with e-mail requests, increasing candidates' deposits, reducing security at election counts and fixed term parliaments.

'Saving peanuts'

But there was a wary reaction from different groups involved in elections - John Turner from the Association of Electoral Administrators told the newspaper: "There is a real danger that despite years of trying to get the voter to engage, the government is doing the opposite."

Democracy has to be paid for
Jack Straw

And Ken Ritchie, of the Electoral Reform Society, reportedly warned that the "health of the democratic process is more important than saving peanuts".

The Ministry of Justice said they were just ideas "for further consideration" which had not yet been put to ministers and would have to go to consultation.

In a statement, Mr Straw said officials had to be able to "examine all possibilities before they put proposals to ministers".

But he added: "I and other ministers had absolutely no knowledge about this exercise.

"I make no complaint about that but now that it has gone public I make clear what I would have told officials privately: That these proposals are simply unacceptable.

"The exercise has therefore ended. Democracy has to be paid for."

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