Government admits missing deadline for ballot paper delivery

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Indy Politics

The Government admitted yesterday that it had missed the legal deadline for postal ballots but, as council officials and printing contractors made frantic efforts last night, ministers insisted that less than 1 per cent of the voting packs would be late.

The Government admitted yesterday that it had missed the legal deadline for postal ballots but, as council officials and printing contractors made frantic efforts last night, ministers insisted that less than 1 per cent of the voting packs would be late.

And today it was confirmed that 100 per cent of ballot packs were issued to the Royal Mail shortly after 5am.

Elections officials worked through the night to deliver the remaining ballot papers in the North-west to the Royal Mail ready for delivery by post today after the region failed to meet the deadline.

The postal ballots, affecting more than 14 million people, have been dogged by controversy after a series of delays and errors threw the pilot, all-postal polls into chaos.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, condemned the situation as a democratic disgrace and warned of potential legal challenges to next week's elections, while Liam Fox, the Conservative Party co-chairman, said the polling experiment was a shambles.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Constitutional Affairs insisted last night that only "a fraction of 1 per cent" of the ballots had missed the midnight deadline. She said the Royal Mail would ensure the delayed ballots would be dispatched to voters on time despite missing the official delivery target.

A statement from the returning officers in the four regions holding experimental all-postal ballots in next week's European and local elections said all ballot packs in the East Midlands, the North-east and Yorkshire and the Humber had been sent to the Royal Mail before the midnight deadline. It said: "In the East Midlands, the North-east and Yorkshire & the Humber 100 per cent have been issued.

"In the North-west, nearly all the ballot packs will have been issued to Royal Mail by midnight tonight. The few packs being produced beyond midnight will be picked up by Royal Mail first thing tomorrow morning. Royal Mail's plans should ensure that the same delivery schedule is met as if all ballot packs had been issued by midnight.

"The deadline for returning ballot packs is 10pm on 10 June, which gives voters plenty of time. Royal Mail encourage voters to ensure ballot packs are returned in good time and say 8th June is the day to get them into post boxes."

Christopher Leslie, a Constitutional Affairs minister, said last night: "This is a trial, testing new techniques, designed to make voting easier and more convenient for millions of people. There were always bound to be stories of local glitches and technical difficulties."

Stockport, one of the authorities worst hit, said it was confident of delivering all its ballot papers to the Royal Mail by the end of the day after reprinting them following the discovery of serious errors last week. In Oldham, 120 council staff have been delivering papers to homes after the local authority took charge of distribution.

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