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3 Oct 2014
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Election Fraud
By Andrew Gilligan
In a special investigation Today correspondent Andrew Gilligan exposes how easy it is to defraud the new system for postal voting.

Through exploiting loopholes in the postal vote system I am now the possessor of no fewer than seven votes in Britain's most marginal seat, Torbay, in Devon.

I could have got dozens more the same way, more than enough to change the outcome in this constituency where the majority last time was only 12.

What I did was simple. I went down to Torquay, went to the central library and got copies of the local paper for the previous month.

Using the paper's death notices column, I got the names of about 150 people who've died in the last few weeks. Torquay's a seaside town, quite a lot of elderly people, quite a high death rate.

I then chose a handful of these people, the minimum needed for the exercise, and I put their names into an electoral roll website freely available on the internet. Using that site I could check that they were on the electoral roll and I got their exact addresses.

For the next stage, I simply applied for postal votes in those people's names. I took advantage of the loophole that you don't have to have the ballot paper sent to the address where you're registered. So we arranged for these dead people's ballot papers to be sent not to their old homes but to the home addresses of several members of the Today programme staff.

Tony Hodgkiss, the chief executive of Torbay council, who is also the returning officer, admitted to us that the council didn't check any of the applications against the death register.

It is easier because the government has changed the rules. You no longer have to give a reason for wanting a postal vote and the forms are much easier to obtain - they've been printed in newspapers.

That has led to a surge in postal vote applications at this election - Torbay alone is double what it was last time, and some seats have risen seven-fold. That might be good for turnout and voter participation, but the sheer volume of applications makes it almost impossible for councils to do proper checks.

I can stress that Torbay council is now going to check all its postal votes against the death register, so the election there at least should be clean.

We want to stress also that we're not accusing anyone in Torbay, from any of the parties, of electoral malpractice. We just picked that seat because it's the most marginal. And we won't of course be using our seven votes.

Nonetheless, Lord Rennard, the Liberal Democrats' campaign director, won't rule out a challenge to the result if his candidate loses narrowly.

But this clearly has serious implications for balloting elsewhere in the country, and it will add for the calls for it to be looked at.

Listen - Andrew Gilligan's report on Election Fraud
Listen - Postal vote investigation - Lord Weatherill and Michael Ancram
Listen - Election votes - The story breaks
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