Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Postal Voting Isn't Working

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Postal Voting Isn't Working

Article excerpt

AS LONDON goes to the polls today, voters must remember that this election is fast becoming something very different from all those of recent years. Normally, the conduct of elections in this country is reliable and fair, and results are rarely disputed. Cases of malpractice are few. This time, however, the local and European polls see the introduction of all-postal voting in four Northern regions, aimed at improving turnout and thereby boosting the democratic legitimacy of the vote. That was and is a worthy aim. When voters stay away through apathy, democracy suffers. The mandate of the winners has less weight and there is a risk that fringe parties, such as the British National Party, gain an importance out of all proportion to their actual level of support. The new system could ultimately be used across the whole of Britain. With so much at stake, however, it was essential that the new arrangements should be demonstrably sound. Yet there are now signs that Labour's General Secretary Matt Carter has defied the advice of the Electoral Commission by recommending doorstep collection of last-minute ballot papers and a stunt with fake ballot boxes. In addition, four police forces are investigating hundreds of cases of alleged fraud where postal votes are being introduced.

There are claims that ballot papers have been stolen, and that some community elders in areas like Bradford and Oldham are intimidating people over their votes. All this could mean there could be court challenges anywhere where the result is a close one. Already there has been a chaotic scramble to get the ballot papers out in time to the 14 million people concerned, with expensive last minute deployments of council binmen to make deliveries. This is a disgraceful state of affairs for a country which pioneered representative democracy. And it is all too clear who is to blame.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, was told by the Electoral Commission back in March that bringing a still experimental system in on so large a scale was risky. The House of Lords, too, warned the Government of the dangers. But Labour, in an hurry to increase turnout in its Northern strongholds in elections where it was likely to do badly, pressed ahead. …

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