Voters should not be concerned about the security of postal votes in the General Election, a council poll chief said yesterday.

But Alan Winchcombe, executive director of the Association of Electoral Administrators - which ensures the electoral process is safe and fair - said more checks and balances are needed to ensure the integrity of the system.

He said the introduction of ID cards would "undoubtedly help" in verifying voter's identities.

Postal voting has become an increasingly hot topic in the past week, with the Conservatives accusing the Labour Government of failing to do enough to protect against voting fraud amid evidence that applications for postal votes have rocketed.

Requests from voters have increased by up to 500 per cent in some of the most hotlycontested seats.

Fears over potential cheating in May 5's poll were already running high in the wake of fraud scandals in Birmingham, where six Labour councillors were found guilty by an election commissioner, and Blackburn, where a Labour activist was sentenced to three years and seven months in jail.

Mr Winchcombe said: "I don't think we should be at all worried about the way postal voting is taking place at this election.

"Our members are very keen to make sure that the integrity of the ballot is totally protected.

"Electoral fraud, particularly in postal voting, does takes place but the Birmingham case which has highlighted this is a fairly small case of it."

He added: "In the 2004 elections where this occurred, fraud took place in just three wards of 6,000 wards that were contested in the UK.

"The AEA members are very vigilant in checking applications for postal voting and do everything they can to make sure the postal voting process is totally secure."

But he conceded more checks and balances were required, adding: "The whole of the voting process in the UK is based on trust and always has been. It hasn't significantly changed since Victorian times.

"You walk into the polling station and your identity is not checked.

"You are asked to confirm your name and address on the register of electors but the people on the desk do not know whether you are that person or not and the same applies to postal voting."

There was no way of checking the signature of the voter or the witness on postal ballots, he admitted.

"The problem is that we don't have a database of those signatures.

"If we could check those signatures or other pieces of information... then that could go some way to checking individual voters' identities."

ID cards would " undoubtedly help", he said.

"If you had to take an ID card into the polling station with a photograph on it, voting officials could check your identity almost without error.

He accepted this would not help with postal votes.