Vote-rigging councillor jailed for 3 years

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Indy Politics

The security of the postal voting system came into question for the second time this week as a former Labour Party councillor who rigged postal votes in a local election was jailed for three years.

The security of the postal voting system came into question for the second time this week as a former Labour Party councillor who rigged postal votes in a local election was jailed for three years.

The judge sentencing Muhammed Hussain, who defrauded 233 voters' postal ballot papers in a local election in Blackburn, Lancashire, said the system was "wide open to fraud".

His comments echoed those of a judge investigating allegations of electoral fraud in local elections in Birmingham, who earlier this week condemned the system as "hopelessly insecure".

Hussain, 61, originally from Pakistan and a Labour Party member of more than 28 years standing, committed the fraud while campaigning in 2002 for the ward of Bastwell, which he had held for two years before losing it to a Tory in 1999.

His campaigners made house-to-house visits, asking voters to hand over uncompleted ballot papers posted to them, and telling them: "Don't worry. We'll take care of them."

He went on to win the May election, defeating the Tory incumbent by 1,728 to 1,043 votes. But a criminal investigation was launched after the returning officer noticed that the return of postal votes in his ward was unusually high ­ 76 per cent, compared with an average of 64.9 per cent.

Detectives discovered that Hussain's supporters had simply picked him as a candidate and witnessed the ballot papers before returning them.

After Hussain pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to conspiring to defraud the returning officer, the court heard that the postal voting system was flawed as there was no way of verifying the name and signatures on the ballot paper, and no way of verifying or checking the identity and signature of the alleged witness to the vote cast.

Philip Andrews, in mitigation, said the fraud had made no difference to the result, as Hussain would still have been elected even if the 233 fraudulent votes had not been cast.

Judge Peter Openshaw, the Recorder of Preston, dismissed this argument, saying: "The defendant has literally stolen votes."

He said: "There is no guidance available to me because happily there is no precedent as to how I should fix the appropriate sentence for electoral fraud on this scale. I consider it to be my public duty to make it a stiff sentence intended to discourage others from yielding to similar temptation."

Commending the returning officer and Lancashire Police for "unmasking a public scandal", he said he was not allowed under the current law to disqualify Hussain from public office but in his judgement the defendant was "entirely unfit" for such a role.

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