Inquiry into poll rigging claims

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The Independent Online
POLICE HAVE been called in to investigate allegations of ballot- rigging on a Lancashire council amid claims that Liberal Democrats are using multiple votes to retain a marginal seat in next Thursday's elections.

The electoral registration officer of Burnley Borough Council made the referral after residents complained they had been assigned proxy votes without their permission.

The complaints follow revelations that 28 per cent of electors in Burnley's Daneshouse ward had been allocated proxies to allow activists to cast their votes on their behalf. Of the ward's electorate of 4,158, more than 1,100 have proxy votes. It is estimated that 775 of the proxies will be cast for the Liberal Democrats and 375 for Labour.

Labour claims that 41 Liberal Democrat supporters have been given up to seven proxies each and has called for a wide-ranging inquiry into the affair.

Rafik Malik, the Labour council's deputy leader, said that the number of proxies was "suspiciously high" even for a mainly Asian ward where many people spent weeks abroad and needed others to vote for them. "It is a concern that there are so many," he said, calling the use of proxies "an act of desperation".

Muzaquir Ali, the Liberal Democrat councillor for the ward, said it was perfectly proper for party workers to ensure residents didn't lose their vote if they were away. "We have had a very good campaign team and we have been out campaigning since early March. A lot of people don't vote as they are going to Pakistan or India and want to make sure their vote isn't lost," he said.

"It's legally correct. If there was anything wrong with it, then the electoral officer shouldn't have accepted it. It's just sour grapes from the Labour Party."

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in London said that there was no evidence of any malpractice and the "smear" proved that Labour was under pressure in its heartlands.

The Liberal Democrats countered with allegations of their own about Labour's electoral tactics in Sheffield, claiming that residents who wanted postal votes had been pressured into using proxies instead.

They published a Labour memo that instructed party workers to sign up as many proxies as possible to "guarantee" Labour votes.