Section 28 ballot 'will be hit by vote fraud'

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Indy Politics

Opponents of a move to ballot four million Scots on plans to scrap Section 28 claim that the referendum will be hit by fraudulent multiple votes.

Opponents of a move to ballot four million Scots on plans to scrap Section 28 claim that the referendum will be hit by fraudulent multiple votes.

Britain's first privately funded referendum will be launched tomorrow by campaigners who oppose plans before the Scottish parliament to abolish the law, which bans the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools.

The Keep the Clause group, using over £1m donated by the Stagecoach rail and bus group owner Brian Souter, will send out postal ballot papers to four million voters, asking them to vote by 22 May on whether they wish to scrap or retain the legislation.

The campaign was launched after the Scottish executive announced plans last year to scrap Section 28, known in Scotland as Section 2(a) of the Local Government Act 1986. Despite the risks of a public backlash, the Scottish parliament seems very likely to repeal it in June or July. In a vote on the second phase of the bill last week, the measure was passed by 103 to 16.

Buoyed up by opinion polls showing two-thirds of Scots opposed its abolition, Keep the Clause is confident it will win the ballot. It refuses, however, to predict how large the turnout will be, claiming it could be as low as 10 per cent.

But its opponents claim the ballot is vulnerable to organised fraud, because no checks will be made on whether people send in multiple votes.

Keep the Clause admitted yesterday the ballot papers will simply asks respondents to put a cross against either of the two questions and return them, without any identifying codes or numbers to check against individual voters.

Doubts were also raised yesterday about the company that will stage the ballot, Vote It. The firm, based in Paulton, near Bath, has only previously staged a much smaller poll of 4,300 residents in South Ribble, Lancashire, on their views about rubbish collection.

Tim Hopkins, a spokesman for Scrap the Section, which supports abolition, said these issues posed serious questions about the validity of the poll. He said that Keep the Clause was using an electoral roll which was 18 months old and supporting their case with a very large three-month billboard campaign across Scotland.

"This is an attempt by someone very rich to buy the democratic process," he said. "With a postal vote, there is absolutely nothing to stop someone sending in four voting forms intended for other people."

However, David Macauley, a spokesman for Keep the Clause denied there were any security doubts. He said the voting process was being supervised by John Cowdall, a former chief executive of West Lancashire district council. He said the voters register was the latest available electronically, and the ballot question had been given "a clean bill of health" by Professor Ivor Crewe, Vice-Chancellor of Essex University.

"As far as we're concerned, it's a very robust exercise," Mr Macauley said.

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