Proxy voting to be investigated

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is to conduct a wide-ranging review of the use of proxy voting in elections after allegations that parties have abused the practice to boost their vote.

A special Home Office working party on electoral law will investigate ways of tightening the law to ensure that proxies are not misused by over- enthusiastic party activists.

The move follows bitter claims and counterclaims by Labour and the Liberal Democrats that their rivals are using proxies to guarantee votes, particularly in areas with high proportions of Asian voters.

Under the law, one person can claim an unlimited number of proxy votes as long as they act as proxy for members of their family.

Proxies should only be used for those who are incapacitated by illness or other reasons, but have in recent years become a valuable weapon in the parties' armoury of tactics to secure votes. Unlike postal votes, which are often more appropriate, proxies guarantee that the parties know which way the ballot is cast.

Activists claim that many Asian people are away for long periods in India and Pakistan during elections and need proxies to retain their right to the franchise.

But both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have exploited the loophole to ensure as many as seven or eight votes per household, all delivered by a party supporter in the family.

The controversy erupted again last week when police were called in to Burnley Council to investigate claims that voters had been given proxies without their permission.

Labour claimed that the Liberals had nominated 41 people each with up to seven votes each to secure more than 700 proxies in one ward in Burnley.

The ward, which is predominantly Asian, also has hundreds of Labour pledges, and out of a total electorate of 4,000 people, 28 per cent are committed to proxy votes.

The Liberals claim that Labour has abused the system in Sheffield, where it is desperate to hold on to one of its most vulnerable city councils in Thursday's local elections.