Rise in postal voting primes parties for poll challenges

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Indy Politics

The political parties are braced for a series of challenges to close-run election results in constituencies with high numbers of postal votes.

The political parties are braced for a series of challenges to close-run election results in constituencies with high numbers of postal votes.

With many marginal seats experiencing a dramatic rise in numbers of voters applying for postal ballots, Michael Howard denounced ministers yesterday for failing to protect the electoral system from fraud.

But the Tory leader was also forced to admit his party had used the same tactics as Labour to encourage potential supporters to apply for voting forms.

Four million people - 15 per cent of the electorate - could vote by post next month after changes designed to boost turn-out. After the action taken against six Labour councillors, who were found guilty of electoral fraud and stripped of the seats they won lost year, challenges against close results on 5 May look inevitable.

In Cheadle, Greater Manchester, where the Liberal Democrats are defending a majority of just 33, applications have soared to 485 per cent of their level in 2001, reaching 8,226 so far, compared with 1,695 at the previous election.

In Dorset South, where Labour has a majority of 153, applications have nearly doubled, from 3,415 to 6,557. Other marginals reporting large increases include Labour-held Thanet South (up to 219 per cent), Rugby & Kenilworth (207 per cent) and Braintree (333 per cent); the Liberal Democrat seats Mid Dorset & North Poole (318 per cent), Norfolk North (163 per cent) and Weston-super-Mare (240 per cent); and Tory-held Taunton (282 per cent) and Orpington (246 per cent).

A national Labour mailshot includes an application form for a postal vote, with a return address that is a party office in Newcastle. A similar Tory letter asks people to send their forms to offices in Dartford, Kent.

Yesterday, Mr Howard denounced the Government for refusing to endorse suggestions from the Electoral Commission for toughening controls. He said: "If we had had our way, the recommendations would have been accepted and implemented and we would not have a voting system fit for a banana republic."

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