Burnley MP calls for voting reform after ‘industrial scale’ fraud claims

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BURNLEY MP Gordon Birtwistle has called for reform of the postal voting system after allegations of electoral fraud on an “industrial scale”.

Mr Birtwistle told the House of Commons debate that election fraud using postal votes was a huge problem in parts of East Lancashire.

The Liberal Democrat MP, who highlighted the issue in Parliament during the Second Reading of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, says local authorities must clamp down on the crime.

Speaking to the Express, Mr Birtwistle claimed large numbers of postal votes may have been “hoovered up” in parts of the town, as well as “personation” voting fraud during the last elections. He claimed the town hall had been made aware of allegations surrounding the local elections on May 3rd.

Mr Birtwistle said: “Daneshouse, Stoneyholme and Queensgate are the areas of concern.

“We suspected large scale fraud of postal votes where people were hoovering them up – going round houses and getting people to sign them and take them to a central voting point.

“People are getting postal votes but not actually casting the votes themselves. They may be under some pressure to sign a document when people turn up.

“The vote is taken away from them and someone else puts a cross on the ballot paper. People are not being allowed to cast their own votes.”

He also suggested potential issues with personation voting fraud at polling stations.

“This is when someone comes in and claims they are someone that they are not when they vote. There are also suggestions this was going on.”

Election fraud is not a new issue in Burnley. Last year, Liberal Democrat polling agent Asif Manzur was jailed for 18 months after admitting stealing a book of 50 unissued ballot papers.

Two Liberal Democrat councillors were jailed for 18 months in 2006 after being found guilty of vote rigging by proxy vote in the Daneshouse and Stoneyholme ward.

Mr Birtwistle said individual registration and more closely monitoring postal votes would help tackle election fraud.

He said: “This needs resolving now. The more it goes on the more confident people will be to continue to get away with it.

“It can change the course of a close contest. It can make a big difference.

“I brought it up in Parliament and I have spoken to the chief executive in Burnley who will look into it. The local authority needs to clamp down on this and the culprits should be put before the courts and sent to prison.

“We should be more strict. People should have a genuine reason for a postal vote rather than just having it. Individual registration will help solve the problem.”

A spokesman for Burnley Council said: “Burnley Council takes a very strong and clear line on issues of voting fraud.

“We have not received any specific complaints of personation in relation to the May 3rd elections.

“If anyone has any evidence, they should give it to the police or the returning officer immediately.

“If Burnley Council becomes aware of any specific allegations or evidence of fraud, we always follow them up.

“We work closely with the police on these issues. We have successfully identified fraud and attempted fraud in the past, resulting in the prosecution and conviction of individuals.

“Overall, we are confident that all voters in the borough can have full confidence in the democratic process.”