ZIMBABWE is obviously not the only country in which ballot boxes are stuffed with fraudulent votes but it comes as a shock to realise that something similar may now be taking place in Britain.

In Birmingham tomorrow a judge is expected to deliver his findings on allegations that ballot boxes were tampered with in local city elections last year to secure the victory of six Labour councillors. This is the first election court to investigate corruption for more than a century. A week ago the judge, Richard Mawrey, said that on the evidence he had heard he considered Britain's postal voting system to be an “open invitation to fraud”. During the hearings, which have had surprisingly little media coverage, evidence was given of postal ballot forms being diverted before they reached those entitled to them, of shopping bags filled with completed forms being carried into the counting room and emptied on to tables, and of people being told by party representatives who they should vote for.

The accusations are that hundreds of voters had their ballots stolen by Labour and Liberal Democrat vote-riggers; all the accused deny wrong-doing.
If Mr Mawrey upholds the accusations tomorrow the six Labour councillors concerned would lose their seats and be banned from public life for five years. But the outcome would not be confined to Birmingham. There is widespread concern in Britain that, while postal voting may increase turnout at elections, the existing system is not sufficiently secure and can easily be abused; the Electoral Reform Society wants additional safeguards introduced and there is also parliamentary pressure for changes to make fraud less likely.

Whatever conclusions Mr Mawrey reaches tomorrow in the particular cases he has been examining, his remarks about the flaws in the postal voting system could have consequences following the impending general election when narrowly-defeated candidates begin to wonder whether they should challenge the validity of the postal votes.


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