Witness confusion led to loss of 60,000 postal votes

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Indy Politics

The loss of up to 60,000 postal votes in northern England in last week's elections because of apparent confusion over the need to get them witnessed is to be investigated by the Electoral Commission.

The loss of up to 60,000 postal votes in northern England in last week's elections because of apparent confusion over the need to get them witnessed is to be investigated by the Electoral Commission.

The so-called "declaration of identity" forms which accompanied the postal voting papers compelled every voter to secure the name and address of a witness to the voter's identity. The system, which the Electoral Reform Society had warned should not be used, appears to have caused chaos.

Thousands of voters forgot to send back the form known to returning officers as the ID form. Others sent the form but not the ballot paper, while yet more failed to fill in the witness's name or their address. In the North-east, about 18,700 forms were annulled because of the ID form and in the North-west 20,500. Analysis was incomplete in the Yorkshire area, but 1,500 votes may have been annulled in Leeds.

Initial evidence suggests that the lost votes came mainly from staunchly Labour-voting areas, such as Sunderland and South Tyneside. Barbara O'Toole, the former North-east Labour MEP, said that the ballot's mechanics had cost her the seat. She lost it by a margin of 11,525 to the Lib Dems, who also took Newcastle council.

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