MORE than 500 postal voters have dropped off the register of electors for Burnley Council's election today - but this was expected, according to chiefs.

Electoral officers at the council have only received 7,542 postal vote requests - the figure is down six per cent from 8,081 last year, out of an electorate of about 66,000.

The number of postal vote requests for the Daneshouse and Stoneyholme ward - in which Liberal Democrats Manzur Hussain, 58, of Milner Street, Burnley, and Mozaquir Ali, 44, of Brougham Street, Burnley were convicted of vote rigging offences - has also fallen by six per cent, from 1,388 to 1,295.

The number of requests for proxy votes in the ward has dropped from 185 in 2004 to 42 requests.

The number of requests rose slightly this year to 60.

In Birmingham, which saw a large election fraud in 2004, more than 20,000 postal voters have dropped off the register, leading to claims that the fraud could have been much more widespread than first thought.

But Blackburn with Darwen Council, which saw a postal vote fraud in 2002, has recorded an increase in requests for postal votes, up by between 100 and 150 to 20,500 from last year.

Steve Rumbelow, chief executive and returning officer for Burnley Council, said the drop was expected as new regulations meant that voters had to re-apply for postal votes.

The tighter rules also meant that postal voters had to provide date of birth and their signature prior to the election and also on the ballot paper.

He said: "The new checks are a vast improvement."

Mr Rumbelow said that the explanation for the fall in the number of the proxy votes in Daneshouse and Stoneyholme could be put down to it being easier to get a postal vote than it was then.

He said: "I think there is a danger in assuming any correlation with the fraud that does not necessarily exist."

Mr Rumbelow said with good weather expected he would encourage people to get out and vote today.

In Pendle where there are also high numbers of postal voters, those registered for that type of vote have fallen by about three per cent to 7,562.

There have not been any electoral frauds in Pendle or Rossendale in recent times.

David Whipp, resources cabinet member at Pendle, said: We remain concerned at the potential for abuse with the availability of postal votes on demand. The best way to ensure the integrity of the voting system is for people to vote in person, in secret, at the polling station."

A third of seats in Burnley, Rossendale, and Pendle are up for grabs in today's town hall elections. Polls close at 10pm.