Fears over votes cast by forces in Afghanistan

Reporter:

Garth ApThomas

FEARS have been raised that some serving soldiers in Afghanistan might not be able to vote in the General Election.

The Army Families Federation has raised concerns that the votes of some service personnel based in remote and hostile territories in Afghanistan might not count because the ballot papers might not be brought back in time to meet the deadline.

Federation chief executive Julie McCarthy said: “There are currently 9,500 troops in Afghanistan. In addition there are a further 26,000 serving personnel overseas and 10,500 voting age dependants, such as wives and children, overseas.”

She said looking to the future the federation wanted a longer timescale allowing postal votes to be returned and the introduction of electronic voting.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said specific measures were being put in place to ensure members of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan were given every opportunity to register to vote and to cast their votes even in remote locations – subject to operational priorities.

“These electors will, like other electors, be able to apply to register in their UK constituencies and can either apply to vote by post or appoint a proxy to vote for them,” she added.

“For those who choose to vote by post the production of postal ballot packs will be expedited after the close of nominations, which is 11 days before the poll, and sent through military channels to Afghanistan.

“Electoral administrators, the Royal Mail, the British Forces Post Office and the Ministry of Defence are working with the Ministry of Justice to ensure systems are in place to get the postal ballots to the electors as soon as possible and to have them returned quickly.”

Ian Lucas, Labour’s candidate in Wrexham, said: “The independent Electoral Commission has worked with the Ministry of Defence to explain the best ways for armed forces personnel to vote. The campaign sends out the information every autumn.

“I have attended many armed forces events in Wrexham. No-one has raised concerns about their vote with me.”

Tom Rippeth of the Liberal Democrats said British soldiers serving in Afghanistan were putting their lives on the line for democracy, adding: “If their votes do not count it would be unfair and demonstrate a lack of respect for servicemen and women.”

Plaid Cymru’s Arfon Jones said: “We very much hope that by time of the Assembly elections our troops will be voting here in Wales following the phased withdrawal that we advocate.”

Conservative Gareth Hughes said: “They are fighting on the front line against terror and against those who would deny a free vote to their own people.”

UKIP candidate John Humberstone said: “They deserve to have a say in who will govern and probably get them into or hopefully out of war zones in the future.”

Melvin Roberts of the British National Party said: “Serving troops are not allowed to publicly express an opinion as to why their country is taking a certain action.

“However, they are entitled to their democratic vote, and a secret ballot is their only way of expressing their views.”

See full story in the Leader

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