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UK accused of ballot fraud, vote-stealing
Posted: Saturday, June 12, 2004

BRITAIN which - together with the United States - claims to be the champion of democracy, has been hit by allegations of ballot fraud and vote-stealing.

The two Western countries condemned Zimbabwe's 2002 Presidential election and imposed sanctions against the country yet their own elections are not perfect.

In the US, President George W. Bush's victory had to be confirmed by the Supreme Court made up mainly of judges who support his Republican Party.

Police in Britain are now investigating the claims, the latest in a series of problems to hit the controversial trial of postal voting in local, London and European elections.

All-postal ballots are being tested in the North East, North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside.

An investigation by the Times newspaper suggested a large number of voters had been intimidated into handing over blank ballot papers or forced to support a certain party.

Greater Manchester police are looking into allegations of malpractice after numerous reports of fraud, and Lancashire police are preparing to question 60 people over suspicions about 170 proxy vote applications, while officers in Tameside are also making inquiries into postal vote fraud.

In one case, an employer reportedly told his staff he would sack them all if they refused to vote Labour, the party Mr Blair heads.

Police are understood to be investigating allegations that supporters of mainstream political parties collected ballot papers door-to-door and in some instances even filled in blank papers.

Other troubles have hit the elections.

At least one local authority has said it has had to reprint nearly 250 000 ballot papers.

Another was reported to be delivering ballot packs by hand after production delays.

And in Bolton, the council is having to set up two emergency polling stations after thousands of ballot papers went undelivered.

Furthermore, two men have now been arrested in connection with an incident in Oldham two weeks ago.

A 49-year-old man was detained yesterday on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and theft of ballot papers.

The move came after a Liberal Democrat candidate was held last week after two men called at a house in Oldham and offered to look after the ballot papers for everyone at the address.

The family handed over five ballot papers.

Chief Inspector Stuart Harman of Oldham police said: "Over the last week we have received a number of allegations of election fraud, all of which are being thoroughly examined to establish if those involved have breached election protocol or broken the law.

"I hope that our response to these allegations will encourage any voters who do have any concerns to report irregularities to the police as we all work to ensure the integrity of the voting process."

A poll yesterday indicated one in seven voters in the all-postal ballot trial areas had not received ballot papers by last weekend.

However, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott defended his decision to press ahead with all-postal ballots in four English regions amid opposition Conservative Party claims of "chaos" in the voting process.

The deputy prime minister, standing in for Premier Tony Blair, who is at the Group of Eight leading industrial nations summit, said Members of Parliament should "celebrate" the fact that one million additional votes had already been cast in areas trialling all-postal ballots.

He said the scheme may have increased turnout by as much as two million by the end of tomorrow - the so-called "Super Thursday" of local, London and European elections.

But the Conservative Party deputy leader, Mr Michael Ancram, accused Mr Prescott of "breathtaking complacency".

Citing reports of electoral fraud, late delivery of ballot papers and voters who have yet to receive their voting packs, he said the government should stop "playing fast and loose" with democracy and return to the ballot box.

- Herald Reporter-The Guardian.

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