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I am an experienced online journalist and political editor working for Trinity Mirror papers in the West Midlands and the North East, based in the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Westminster.

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At long last, serious attempts are being made to cut fraud at the ballot box.

It's a pity that Labour can't bring itself to support these long-awaited changes - even though it was cheating by Labour candidates which demonstrated that they were needed.

You might think that Britain doesn't have a problem with electoral fraud. Sadly, that's not true, as we discovered in 2005 when an electoral court ruled there had been widespread fraud in Birmingham, Britain's largest local authority.

Postmen were intimidated into handing over sacks full of postal votes. Ballot papers were changed once votes had been cast, unbeknownst to voters, using correction fluid. And police discovered six men in a warehouse with 274 unsealed postal votes.

Perhaps it's no surprise that Richard Mawrey, the judge in the case, condemned "electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic". But this banana republic was the UK's second largest city outside London.

How to tackle this fraud? Well part of the answer is to scrap the current system which allows one person to fill in a form registering everyone in their household to vote, and replace it with a system of individual voter registration.

The independent Electoral Commission explained why this is essential in 2005, saying in its report Voting for Change: "Individual registration is vital to security because it will allow for the first time individual identifiers to be provided by every voter - at minimum a signature and date of birth.

"In our view, reform of voter registration is the key to providing the appropriate level of security for all elections, and particularly in relation to absent voting."

And it's still the Electoral Commission's view today, as set out by its chair, Jenny Watson, to the Commons Constitutional Reform Committee in September. She said: "We welcome individual electoral registration.

"It is the right thing for us to take responsibility for our own votes and it is also the right thing to do because the system is vulnerable to fraud, but it is the biggest change since the universal franchise, therefore it will need careful planning and implementation."

That's not to say the Electoral Commission supports everything the Government is doing.
Ministers also plan to allow people to "opt out" of being on the electoral register - currently it's compulsory - and the Electoral Commission warned that up to 10 million people might decide not to bother signing up.

As Ms Watson said, "that would be something that would concern us all".

Quite right, although I doubt judges would be keen to fine or jail those who failed to comply even if registration was compulsory

Labour has understandably seized on these comments, but is using them to attack the Government's proposals in general.

In her speech to the recent party conference, Harriet Harman, the party's leader, said: "The plans the Tories have set out are going to push people off the electoral register - deny them their vote, deny them their voice.

"The numbers are going to be huge.

"The independent Electoral Commission warn that this could deny millions of people the right to vote. The Tories hope it will help them win the election."

That's part of what the Electoral Commission said, but only part. To listen to Ms Harman, you'd have no idea that the Government is actually introducing major changes which the Commission has been demanding for years.

Instead of taking the problem seriously, she simply saw it as a chance to bash the Tories. Did I mention that it is Labour that was behind the Birmingham fraud?

To quote the judge again: "Marginal, particularly Asian, Wards were the target of postal vote fraud. The conclusion appears inescapable that Bordesley Green and Aston were not isolated incidents but were part of a Birmingham-wide campaign by the Labour Party to try, by the use of bogus postal votes, to counter the adverse effect of the Iraq war on its electoral fortunes."

He also made it very clear that the national party knew nothing about what was happening. Even so, I think a little humility is called for from Ms Harman.

Labour - and all the parties - should back reform. Allowing people to opt out is a bad idea, even if , as I strongly suspect, making registration compulsory will become one of those laws that is never enforced. But it would be perfectly possible to urge the Government to think again on that specific issue while still backing the thrust of the reforms.

The key change being introduced is individual voter registration, and it's a change that's been too long coming.

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Jonathan Walker Political Editor of the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail, Sunday Mercury, Coventry Telegraph, Newcastle Journal, Newcastle Chronicle and Sunday Sun.

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