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POSTAL BALLOTS ARE FIRST-CLASS

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Pilot all-postal voting ballots have been judged a success in local and mayoral elections, increasing turnout by as...
Pilot all-postal voting ballots have been judged a success in local and mayoral elections, increasing turnout by as much as 29% in some areas.

Chorley BC had the highest turnout at 61%, up from 32% in the last elections.

South Tyneside MBC, also an all-postal-pilot, increased its turnout from 27% to 55%.

While all-postal ballots in the 13 councils that took part had higher than average turnouts, overall voting was up by 4%.

Of the 30 councils approved to run pilot voting systems, a few used internet, e-voting and text message and phone voting as part of the government's drive to modernise the electoral process.

Delighted with the success of the pilots, local government minister Nick Raynsford said: 'There can be no doubt that this marks a major step forward in modernising our electoral system - particularly in terms of postal and e-voting.'

He added: 'The government is committed to modernising the way we vote - making the process simpler, more accessible and more efficient, maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of the system.'

The Local Government Association is pleased overall turnout has increased.

LGA chair Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) said: 'These results demonstrate just what can be achieved when all the parties effectively engage people in the political process. Several councils are experimenting with new methods of voting and, in the case of postal voting, we're seeing increases of up to 29%.'

He said the LGA would like to see both central and local government working together more closely to strengthen local government's autonomy.

'Only then will we convince the electorate that they have a real stake in local democracy,' he added.

In most of the councils where elections for a directly elected mayor took place, voter turnout was significantly increased. For example, the high profile mayoral candidate Ray 'Robocop' Mallon in Middlesbrough Council prompted a 43% turnout, up from 31%, although part of this success can be attributed to the all-postal ballot.

Similarly, Hartlepool BC, Doncaster MBC, Watford BC and Lewisham LBC, which all had mayoral elections, saw turnout increase above the national average.

But Newham LBC's mayoral elections failed to boost turnout. Despite being an

e-voting pilot, with options of early voting and a 10% postal ballot, voter turnout dropped to 27%, down from 28% in the last elections.

One explanation given is that a win by Sir Robin Wales (Lab) in a council where Labour has a vice-like grip was expected. But critics have argued the money ploughed into Newham's pilot system was a waste.

The Electoral Commission has begun to evaluate the electoral pilot schemes.

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