Tories accused of stealing proxy votes: Marianne Macdonald reports on allegations of electoral abuse by canvassers in Brighton

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Indy Politics
CONSERVATIVE campaigners in Brighton have been accused of dishonestly obtaining proxy votes from residents in next week's county council elections.

The returning officer for the Brighton district of East Sussex, Bob Divine, is urging people who believe their votes have been taken without consent to go to the police.

Mr Divine said: 'We are aware of some concerns by people who signed proxy voting forms, and we have received a number of requests from residents asking us to cancel their proxy vote. We are very concerned about any abuse of the electoral process.'

One case allegedly involves a Labour voter and his wife, both in their fifties, who display Labour posters in their windows. They did not know their votes had been given by proxy to prominent Conservatives until a Labour councillor told them.

Paul Matz, Labour's campaign organiser for Brighton, said: 'We've been speaking to people who, according to town hall lists published last week, have appointed proxies and a number weren't aware of it. They thought they were getting postal votes.'

It is unknown how many others have found themselves with proxies they did not request. Seven have emerged so far, but records show the number of proxy voters has risen by two-thirds in some wards, suggesting the total could be far higher. There are an estimated 750 proxy voters in all of Brighton's 16 wards.

It is possible for unscrupulous campaigners to obtain proxy votes by asking those unable to reach the polling station to complete an absent voters form. Critics say the form is open to misuse unless the applicants, many of whom are elderly, complete it in full.

A partially blind elderly woman has had to cancel her proxy. Her son said a Conservative canvasser filled in a proxy vote request on her behalf despite being told repeatedly that she wanted a postal vote.

'He got a form out and said to put her down for a proxy vote. He said to me, 'Can she sign this?' I said she was a bit doddery. He signed it himself.'

The son said the canvasser had not asked which way his mother wished to vote: 'She's always been a Conservative voter but as far as he was concerned she could have been Liberal or Labour.'

Steve Bassun, the Labour leader of Brighton council, claimed a pattern of Conservative misuse of proxy votes was appearing which dated back to previous local elections.

He said he had traced several voters who had cancelled their proxy votes in the East Sussex county council elections on 6 May. He said they included a man with Alzheimer's disease, a second partially blind woman and one aged more than 80 who was frequently in hospital. He said several were life-long Labour voters.

He added: 'The system is wide open to abuse because the same form applies to postal and proxy votes.'

(Photograph omitted)