Printers have 24 hours to avert postal voting fiasco

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Indy Politics

Printers will work throughout today's bank holiday in a desperate race to produce postal voting forms for the European and local elections by tomorrow's deadline.

Printers will work throughout today's bank holiday in a desperate race to produce postal voting forms for the European and local elections by tomorrow's deadline.

With millions of papers still not sent out, Michael Howard, the Tory leader, warned that the chaos could leave the results of the 10 June elections vulnerable to legal challenges.

All-postal ballots are being held in four English regions, against the advice of the independent Electoral Commission, which wanted a smaller number. The Government also forced the experiment through Parliament in the face of strong opposition in the Commons and the Lords.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs insisted yesterday it was "on target" for the Royal Mail to receive all the voting packs by tomorrow. A spokeswoman said: "The printers are working overtime to get it done." She said about 85 per cent of the 15 million voting forms had already been passed to the Royal Mail, which would deliver them this week. But that still leaves nearly three million being produced over the bank holiday weekend.

Tony Blair said yesterday that the remaining printing problems would be sorted out in time to guarantee that everyone's vote would be counted. He told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost: "I am assured that this is the case, so it better be."

But Mr Howard said the confusion could upset the administration of next week's elections. He told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "It's yet another example of this government simply failing to listen. They were advised they were embarking on a course which was fraught with danger, fraught with difficulty."

The all-postal ballots are being staged in the East Midlands, the North-west, the North-east, and Yorkshire and Humberside.

The Electoral Commission said yesterday it had expressed "reservations" about the scale of the exercise, recommending that it took place in up to three parts of the country. A spokeswoman said it had also raised concerns about the "lack of time for administrators to get all the systems in place".

With voters in the four regions receiving two ballot papers and envelopes and declaration of identity forms, printers are having to handle at least 75 million pieces of paper. More than 200,000 ballot papers had to be reprinted in Stockport, Greater Manchester, and 250,000 in Bradford were destroyed - in both cases because of printing errors.

The illness of a printer has been blamed for delays in four Tyneside authorities; he has claimed he was "shattered".

The Tories claim the elections could be challenged in court and say Parliament may have to be recalled.

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