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Pendle chief calls for tighter controls on voting fraud
A RETURNING officer is calling for tighter controls to prevent possible electoral fraud in his parliamentary constituency.
An investigation was ordered by Stephen Barnes, the returning officer for Pendle and borough council chief executive, amid widespread unease over postal and proxy voting in a series of polls. And after hearing a raft of concerns following public meetings in Nelson, Colne and West Craven, he is writing to the Electoral Commission to outline his worries.
Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson raised the issue last year, particularly involving ‘family voting’, echoing concerns across the political spectrum in recent years.
It was noted that in one ward, Reedley, more than 25 per cent of the votes cast by the electorate were postal.
Mr Barnes established an inquiry into voting practices last year and has published his findings for the borough council’s executive.
One of his chief concerns revolved around the practice of ‘handing in’ postal votes at polling stations on election day. Mr Barnes said: “There is public incredulity that an elector can get a postal vote and then hand it in at a polling station or give it to someone to hand it for them.
“At best, it raises the question why they needed a postal vote in the first place and did not simply go to the polling station and vote in person.
“At worst, it raises suspicions that there is something to hide or some sort of undue influence or collusion.”
He is calling for the practice to be banned and that people wanting postal or proxy votes should be directed to the council's elections office instead of being dealt with by party workers.
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle has also raised concerns about similar practices in his constituency, and an electoral agent was jailed for fraud in the town’s Daneshouse ward in 2011.
The concerns usually centre on family ‘leaders’ unduly influencing relatives’ voting intentions, which is feared to be common using postal voting.