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ONE VOTE MAJORITY ENTERS ITS THIRD MONTH OF DISPUTE

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A maverick voter who objected to signing his postal ballot could force the political control of North Lincolnshire ...
A maverick voter who objected to signing his postal ballot could force the political control of North Lincolnshire Council to be decided by the drawing of lots.

Following the 1 May 1 2003 local elections, the Conservatives control the 43-seat council by 22 councillors to Labour's 21.

One of the most fiercely contested wards was Broughton and Appelby, where Tory Ivan Glover from Broughton was returned by a majority of just one vote after five recounts.

He polled 1,083 votes against the 1,082 cast for Labour candidate Kenneth Edgell, but today a top judge sitting at London's High Court ordered an investigation into the deciding ballot paper.

Gavin Millar, for Mr Edgell, told Mr Justice Jackson under a pilot postal-ballot scheme, voters had to sign part of their ballot paper - later torn off to avoid identification - to be eligible to vote.

The barrister explained that scrawled on the vote at the centre of the legal challenge was: 'Voting is confidential so I refuse to sign.'

This threw into doubt whether the caster had properly identified his or her self on the ballot paper, said Mr Millar, and it was arguable the vote shouldn't have been allowed.

After listening to two hours of legal argument, Mr Justice Jackson ordered the identifying half of the ballot be traced in order to ascertain whether it had been signed properly.

Anyone involved in the investigation, added the judge, would be sworn to secrecy to avoid identifying the voter.

If the vote is struck off the record, the result of the election for the Broughton and Appelby ward will be a tie, and Mr Glover and Mr Edgell will draw lots to decide the winner.

If Mr Edgell emerges victorious, the Tories will lose control of the council and Labour will take power.

However the drawing of lots may not be needed, as Mr Justice Jackson also ordered a recount before a High Court official as Mr Edgell had several complaints about the way in which the original count and the five recounts were conducted.

Mr Millar argued there were problems counting bundles of ballots, claimed the returning officer wrongly refused to adjourn the count and also alleged a photo showed someone wearing a Conservative Party rosette touching ballot papers.

Mr Justice Jackson said 'genuine concern' had arisen over the recounts - which successively produced wins for Mr Glover and Mr Edgell as well as a tie - and it was only right the ballots be totted up again.

COUNCIL WILL COOPERATE FULLY WITH FOUTH RECOUNT(Local Authority)

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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