EAST Lancashire election chiefs are taking tough action to combat vote fraud in next Thursday’s European and council elections.

Nationally police, ministers and the Electoral Commission have launched a drive to tackle misuse of postal and proxy votes in 16 ‘high risk’ areas.

They include Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle and Hyndburn.

In 2012 Pendle Tory MP Andrew Stephenson claimed postal vote fraud was ‘widespread’ in the South Asian community.

Borough returning officer Stephen Barnes has since drawn up guidelines for the parties which Labour has refused to officially sign.

In 2012, Lancashire Police investigated claims of malpractice in three wards in Hyndburn and two in Blackburn with Darwen. None resulted in prosecutions.

Blackburn with Darwen’s returning officer Harry Catherall expressed unhappiness that the borough remains on the Electoral Commission list of 16 high-risk areas after one successful prosecution for vote fraud over a decade ago. Hyndburn’s returning officer Jane Ellis said: “Voters can be reassured that we have clear systems in place to prevent election fraud.

“We carry out detailed checks in respect of proxy and postal voting and ensure our election and polling station staff are on the alert for possible irregularities.

“We also work closely with the police to reinforce the message that anyone involved in election fraud will face prosecution.”

Burnley’s returning officer Steve Rumbelow said: “Voters in our borough should be assured that we have robust systems in place to ensure elections are carried out in a professional manner. Burnley Council works with the police to prevent fraud and send out a clear message that if you are involved in election fraud you will be caught and prosecuted.”

Mr Catherall said: “We are once again disappointed a report using information which refers to an offence 12 years ago is being used to say we are a high risk area for electoral fraud.

“We work incredibly hard to mitigate any risk and remain constantly vigilant. Many of the processes suggested by the Electoral Commission as good practice are things we do already.

“We work with police, political parties and candidates to ensure the integrity of our elections are protected.”