ELECTION 2005: How to Commit Vote Fraud; Last Week a High Court Judge Sitting as an Election Commissioner Found Six Birmingham City Councillors Guilty of Corruption and a Systematic Attempt to Rig the 2004 Local Elections. Chief Reporter Paul Dale Offers His Guide - Accompanied by a Health Warning - to Ballot Rigging

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Byline: Paul Dale

Postal voting is no more prone to fraud than any other system, according to Tony Blair.

The Prime Minister, reacting to the Birmingham election corruption trials, quoted the Electoral Commission: ``The postal ballot system properly done has a lot to recommend it.''

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, told MPs in the House of Commons that ``any democrat should welcome'' the fact that postal voting in 2004 led to the highest turnout for years.

Just in case Mr Blair and Mr Prescott haven't read the 192-page judgement by Richard Mawrey QC on fraud in Birmingham, the following is an idiot's guide to ballot rigging at the General Election - courtesy of a deputy high court judge.

All of the methods we highlight are contained in Mr Mawrey's report, which was based on months of investigation into postal vote fraud in Aston and Bordesley Green.

All of the methods outlined below are illegal and carry the potential for unlimited fines and even imprisonment, although West Midlands Police has yet to bring a single prosecution against those who fiddled an estimated 3,000 votes in Aston and Bordesley Green in June 2004The safe house method1) Obtain a copy of the electoralregister covering all of the wards in a constituency. Target 1,000 names, preferably in areas where turnout is traditionally low. Remember: more than 40 per cent are unlikely to bother to vote in the election so will never know that their votes have been stolen.

2) Obtain an official application form to vote by post from the council elections office and photocopy it 1,000 times. Distribute the forms to a team of five helpers. Each helper fills in the names on 200 forms and signs in the appropriate place. A squiggle will do since the elections office has no powers to check the validity of signatures.

3) Each helper arranges for his 200 forms to be sent by the elections office, not to the address of the persons purportedly applying for votes, but to safe houses.

4) Post the completed application forms as close as possible to the cut-off point, six days before polling day, in order to ensure maximum confusion at the hard-pressed elections office, making it even more certain that staff will not have time to give the applications more than a cursory glance.

5) Pick up from the safe houses the ballot papers and declarations of identity that will be sent out by the elections office. Take the 1,000 ballot papers and declarations of identity to a very-safe house, possibly a deserted warehouse at midnight. …