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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Conspiracy Theories

For those who like conspiracy theories then check out http://www.truthout.org/docs_03/voting.shtml. This website describes an allegedly corrupt voting system which it says is the result of extensive research by computer programmers and journalists working around the globe. Principally it is the work of investigative Journalist Bev Harris, author of the soon to be published book " Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering In The 21st Century."

For those who are advocating moving towards making voting easier by the use of text, e-mail, postal and other methods this is sobering reading. Personally, I am happy to improve ease of access but there must be a much better security and if this cannot be guaranteed then the integrity of the process will be compromised. We have already seen abuses of all-postal elections in the North of England and the Midlands with large numbers of ballot papers being directed to single properties, with individual voters being intimidated or conned into signing over their vote and other abuses. That is unacceptable and must be addressed if these experiments are to continue.

Ultimately, the only way to increase turn-out is to give people faith that their vote will actually change something. That faith is missing in many communities at the moment. Many people feel that the system has let them down, that politicians do not listen and that we are all the same. They feel that their interests are no longer served by those they elect.

If anybody doubts this then they should have been with me at a meeting in Hafod, Swansea last night. Residents gathered to quiz Council Officers and a Cabinet Member about changes to a Housing Renewal Scheme that meant that whereas those whose homes were improved in phase one and two had to pay a means-tested contribution to the work that was carried out on their houses, those in subsequent phases will now receive a 100% grant. Logical as this change may be, there was a natural and reasonable feeling of injustice amongst residents. I have a huge amount of sympathy for the view that the rules should not have been changed in the middle of the scheme without some form of compensation for those in the earlier phases. After an hour and a half of questioning many felt that they had got nowhere. Comments to me afterwards that "no wonder people vote for the BNP" encapsulated the feeling of frustration rather than any inherent racism.

Personally, I do not believe that there are any easy solutions but it is incumbent on all of us as politicians to be aware of these feelings and to try harder. We must try and take people with us more and we must listen and communicate better or the whole basis of our democracy could be undermined.
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