Shock figures reveal more than 1,000 postal votes were rejected in Norwich City Council elections
More than 1,000 postal votes were not counted in this year's Norwich City Council elections because hundreds of people did not put their signatures or date of birth on their ballot form, it has emerged.
When people register for a postal vote, they have to give their date of birth and signature and then, when they send off their ballot form and a postal voting statement, they have to provide those details again.
The Electoral Commission says that is to prevent fraud, but documents obtained from the city council by a former councillor have revealed the surprising scale of votes which are rejected as a result.
Of 17,785 postal votes received for those elections, 1,067 were rejected.
Antony Little, former leader of the Conservative group and ex-councillor for Bowthorpe, requested information about rejected postal votes after May's city council elections.
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When he got those details, Mr Little was shocked by just how many postal votes had not been counted because people had either not put their date of birth and/or signature on the forms.
Many votes had been rejected because the signature and/or date of birth did not match the signatures or date of birth provided when people applied for postal votes.
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The figures showed that, of 1,067 postal votes which were rejected, 81 were not counted because no signature was given and 45 because no date of birth was provided, while 743 failed to be included because neither a signature nor a date of birth was given.
Where these were given, in 80 cases the vote was rejected because it did not match the signature on the initial application form and in 74 cases the form was rejected because the date of birth did not tally with that provided when the vote was applied for.
In a further 40 cases, neither the signature nor the date of birth matched the original application details, and the votes were rejected.
Postal voting has been available to any voter since 2001. Those in favour of the system say it encourages people to take part in the democratic process who might otherwise not be able or willing to head for a polling station.
But critics have questioned how that fits in with the concept of a secret ballot and whether the system is secure.
Their fears were realised when results in Birmingham's 2004 local elections were declared void after a judge ruled there was widespread postal fraud relating to six seats which had been won by Labour.
Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC said evidence of 'massive, systematic and organised fraud' in the campaign had made a mockery of the election and ruled that at least 1,500 votes had been cast fraudulently in Birmingham.
Of the issue of more than a thousand votes not being counted in Norwich, Mr Little said: 'I think it is quite shocking that these votes have not been counted. What gets me is that we have been down the road of postal vote fraud in other places and we seem to have tightened it up to such an extent that genuine votes are not getting through and the people do not even realise their vote has not counted.
'The number of votes we are talking about is considerably more than the majority of the Norwich South MP [Simon Wright], so that shows what a difference it can make.
'The idea of postal voting is continually being pushed, but this shows that the only really efficient way of voting and knowing it is going to count is by going down to the ballot box.
'There's a real danger we are pushing and pushing people to participate, but their votes are not being counted and they do not even realise it.
'I have spent much of my life encouraging people to be part of the democratic process and to vote, but I'm now encouraging people to cancel their postal vote and actually visit their polling station.'
A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: 'Forms are prescribed by law and full written and pictorial instructions are included in every postal vote ballot pack.
'There's also a number to call if further help is needed. Information on what to do if you spoil your postal pack and need a replacement is also provided.'
They added they did not suspect attempted fraud was the reason for the high number of rejected votes in May. A spokesman said: 'We have not seen anything in Norwich that has required us to refer suspected signature fraud to the police. Many signature issues are, for example, husband/wife or partners filling in each other's forms by mistake. These must be rejected by law.'
In the September 2010 local elections, there were 318 postal rejections and in the 2009 local elections there were 271.
The City Hall spokesman said: 'The number of rejections in May 2011 local elections may also have been higher due to the fact that the referendum was held at the same time and caused some confusion.'
What do you think of postal voting? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email firstname.lastname@example.org