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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Fraud fear for postal voting
A council has said it is considering whether to take legal action against the BBC after a reporter obtained postal ballots for five people who had died in the constituency.
There has been a call for an inquiry into the new rules allowing a postal vote on demand following an investigation in the marginal constituency of Torbay in Devon highlighting the potential for fraud in the system.
It has been estimated that up to 20% of the electorate may be voting by post - and in the constituency of Stevenage it is expected that 25,000 out of 70,000 voters may be posting their ballot papers.
Eileen Salloway, deputy leader of Torbay council, said it was "under review" whether to take legal proceedings following the expose by BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"Clearly there have been suggestions that that ought to be the case. On the other hand, they have perhaps highlighted a national problem with the new legislation.
"It is a matter under discussion but we are far more concerned about how to regain the confidence of the Torbay electorate. It has caused great anxiety."
Possibility of fraud
The call for an inquiry into the system of postal voting, by former Commons Speaker Lord Weatherill, raised the stakes in the row over possible abuse of the system.
And Lib Dem campaign chief Lord Rennard said if there was "serious evidence" of abuse in Torbay, the party would appeal if it lost its narrow majority.
On Sunday the head of the Electoral Commission - which advises the government on changes to polling laws - said there was a greater possibility of fraud than at previous elections.
But home office minister Mike O'Brien insisted there was no evidence of fraud taking place and that changes to the system had not made it less secure.
"The new system makes it easier to vote but I am not convinced the old system prevented determined fraudsters from committing fraud," he said.
However, former Commons Speaker Lord Weatherill demanded in inquiry.
The Today reporter, Andrew Gilligan, looked up names of deceased voters in the back issues of the Torbay local paper, the Herald and Express.
He then checked they were on the electoral roll using a widely available internet site and made applications for votes to be delivered to the addresses of various Today programme staff around the country.
Torbay Council later admitted it did not check details of anyone who applied for a postal vote because of the volume of applications - but it would now do so following the BBC report.
Since the law was changed last year it has no longer been necessary to give a reason for voting by post or have applications verified by a doctor or other professional person.
But applications must still be witnessed by someone who knows the person applying for a postal vote.
The deadline for applications for postal votes expired on 30 May.
Conservative party chairman Michael Ancram blamed Labour for rushing through the new law on postal voting.
He said: "What everyone is witnessing at the moment is an indication of yet another case of legislation passed without the resources being put in to make sure that it works afterwards."
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