Psychiatric patients will soon be able to vote

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The Independent Online

Remand prisoners, psychiatric patients and the homeless are to be given the vote for the first time under radical government plans to boost the turn-out at elections.

Remand prisoners, psychiatric patients and the homeless are to be given the vote for the first time under radical government plans to boost the turn-out at elections.

The historic move emerged last night as Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, confirmed that he would introduce legislation to modernise Britain's Victorian electoral laws. The Bill, which is certain to be included in the Queen's Speech next month, will also allow polling stations in supermarkets and post offices, as well as weekend elections.

The reforms, which will be introduced in time for the next general election if pilot schemes prove successful, follow ministerial worries about voter apathy highlighted by this summer's European elections. Just 24 per cent of electors turned out to vote, a record low for any national election this century, with less than one in five voters in Labour areas turning up at the polls. Higher turn-out in Tory areas led to a humiliating defeat for Tony Blair. Under current laws, peers, prisoners and those in mental institutions are not allowed to vote, but Mr Straw wants to update the system to reflect modern times.

While convicted prisoners will remain disenfranchised, the Home Office has concluded that the UK's 10,000 remand prisoners should be included on the electoral register. Although prison reform groups welcomed the plans, Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, criticised the idea.

"The fact that a judge has deemed an individual unfit to remain a part of society would seem to me to preclude that person from having a say about the way that society is run," she told The Independent.

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