This botched experiment tainted the political process

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The Independent Online

The Electoral Commission's verdict on postal voting in June's local and European elections is an indictment of the Government's experiment. The decision to permit the inhabitants of four regions - Yorkshire and the Humber, the North-west, the North-east and the East Midlands - to vote only by a postal ballot was profoundly ill-judged.

The Electoral Commission's verdict on postal voting in June's local and European elections is an indictment of the Government's experiment. The decision to permit the inhabitants of four regions - Yorkshire and the Humber, the North-west, the North-east and the East Midlands - to vote only by a postal ballot was profoundly ill-judged.

The Commission notes that turnout increased in these regions, and this is certainly a welcome development. Given the alarming slump in the number of people voting in recent years, the Government and the Commission are right to look for new ways to encourage people to exercise their democratic rights. Postal voting clearly has something to offer.

The problem with the Government's experiment is that it was implemented so ineptly and with such cynical motives. Thousands of ballot papers were not delivered to people's homes on time, and election workers were forced into a last-minute scramble to post them by hand. Despite these valiant efforts, some people found themselves simply unable to register a vote. Allegations of fraud have further dented public confidence. As the Commission points out, questions about security and secrecy urgently need to be addressed.

Refusing people the option of voting at polling stations was also deeply regrettable. The Commission's conclusion that voters should in future be given a choice of how they register their votes, rather than being forced to post their ballots, is telling. Some may find posting their vote in advance of an election more convenient, but if others want to visit a polling station they should be allowed to do so.

The most distasteful aspect of this affair is that this trial was implemented in the north of the country, where Labour's core vote is concentrated. This, combined with the Government's decision to ignore the concerns from the Commission over the scale of the experiment, makes the affair look like an exercise in gerrymandering. The Tories and Lib Dems are justified in crying foul.

The public, too, might well wonder how serious the Government is about restoring faith in the political process when it resorts to such questionable tactics to pick up votes.

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