New electoral rules place additional pressures on election officers, warns law firm

This month's local elections could spark off a flurry of insurance claims for vote-rigging, a law firm has warned.

CMS Cameron McKenna said new electoral rules placed add-itional pressures on election officers and could lead to an increase in claims against public authorities and insurers.

Under the Electoral Administration Act 2006, councils must now check personal identifiers on statements accompanying postal votes against those submitted with earlier application forms. Failure to fulfill these duties can lead to legal action and insurance claims.

Joanne Marshall, a solicitor at CMS Cameron Mckenna, said: "It remains to be seen whether local authorities, particularly those with a large electorate and/or a high proportion of postal voters, are able to cope with the demands of the new Act.

"If they are not, a returning officer may find himself the subject of proceedings brou-ght by a candidate for whom the election results did not reflect their expectations."

Insurers will provide cover for defence costs and also the costs of rerunning an election.

Zurich Municipal's technical claims manager, Alan Hunter, said: "We recognise the role of the returning officer has chan-ged and any new process takes time to bed down, therefore challenges and claims are a possibility."

Zurich has set up a team of in-house and legal experts to respond rapidly to claims.

Brian Shaw, head of public sector practice at Marsh said: "Liability policies will extend to indemnify the acting retur-ning officer while in the course of conducting official duties. By endorsement, cover can extend to the personal liability for defence costs and other monetary losses, including the cost of rerunning elections.

"Prudent acting returning officers will have familiarised themselves with the new Act and instigate processes to mitigate exposures."

Two years ago the Election Commissioner hearing the cases of alleged postal voting fraud in Birmingham during the 2004 local government elections said that the evidence of electoral fraud "would disgrace a banana republic". 

The Department for Constitutional Affairs has provided funding of £21m to help local authorities tighten up their procedures.