Party bids to sign backers for a postal vote

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LABOUR wants to sign up every supporter to a postal vote ahead of the general election, in a plan that has sparked concern among democracy watchdogs.

The idea is revealed in a secret election handbook obtained by The Scotsman. Postal votes are more susceptible to fraud than poll-booth ones, but Labour's day-to-day election planner reveals a timetable for signing up all possible supporters to vote by post.

With the outcome of the next general election likely to be close, any concerns about the voting system could even trigger a recount, the Electoral Commission has warned.

While postal ballots are available on demand, there have been widespread concerns about transparency. A judge in charge of a previous vote-rigging trial had described the system as "wide open to fraud" after council elections in Birmingham came under scrutiny in 2005.

Just over 12 per cent of voters used the post in the last general election. But that number could more than double if Labour signs up more supporters. In its secret campaign handbook, the party tells candidates that by November they must have "signed up Labour supporters to vote". And on 1 December, campaign managers are told they have to ensure "returned registration forms go to your Electoral Registration Officer".

By January, campaigners are told to "encourage all Labour voters to vote by post".

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said:

"We want everyone to have confidence in the system and to know their vote has been counted. If they are concerned the voting was dubious, then they could put in an electoral petition to challenge the outcome of the election.

"We think voters should have a choice, but we want to see postal votes tightened up so that 100 per cent of papers are checked against their date of birth and signatures."

Ken Richey, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

"The more ballot papers are floating around, the more the secrecy of the ballot can be compromised."

In 2007, 120,000 Scottish voters faced delays in the delivery of their ballot papers ahead of the knife-edge Holyrood elections.

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said: "This just makes Labour look desperate and one wonders if they have given any thought to how this could be misinterpreted."

A Labour spokesman denied there was anything untoward in trying to sign up all supporters to postal votes: "All our campaigns are designed to stay within both the spirit and letter of election rules and guidelines."