Along with thousands of other council candidates I have been spending much of my time over the last few days urging my supporters to apply for a postal vote if they will be away on May 22nd, or for any other reason find it inconvenient to visit the polling station. That is all right and proper – indeed it is helping the democratic process to work properly by ensuring as many as possible get the chance to vote.
However, it should then be left up to the voters to send their own votes off – rather than have party workers asking for them to be handed over. Perhaps offering to wait until they find their ballot paper – then “help” them to fill it in.
At Pendle Borough Council’s meeting of Election Agents yesterday the Labour Party refused to agree to a statement issued by the Borough Returning Officer, Stephen Barnes, aimed at preventing impropriety in the handling of postal votes applications and ballot papers.
Paul White for the Conservative Party, Tony Greaves for the Liberal Democrats, the BNP and UKIP all agreed to the statement. At the meeting, which was also attended by Lancashire Constabulary, Stephen Barnes asked all parties to agree to the statement in the interest of protecting the integrity of the ballot, but Pendle Labour’s Vice Chairman, David Foat, and Campaigns Coordinator Robert Oliver said that they would not support the statement, which asks party workers not to procure signed postal ballot papers.
Pendle is currently one of 16 areas subject to an inquiry by the Electoral Commission looking into the vulnerability of some South Asian communities, specifically with reference to postal voting.
Mr White said:
“We’ve long said that we think there are issues with postal ballots being collected in parts of Pendle by the Labour Party. We have some wards with over 1,200 people on postal ballots. We’re a westernised country, and this sort of rigging shouldn’t be happening here.
“Their Agents sat there and said this sort of thing doesn’t go on in their party. If it doesn’t go on, why wouldn’t they agree it?”
“The Labour Party constantly says this is just sour grapes from the other parties, but by refusing to agree to a document which asks people not to collect postal votes, or to exert undue influence on electors, it shows what could well be going on here.
“By refusing to follow the request of the Returning Officer, and being the only party to do so, it shows that they are willing to use whatever underhand means they wish to win power. I hope that the people of Pendle will now see the kind of standards the local Labour Party have.”