Voters across South Tyneside are being encouraged to help protect their vote as part of a national campaign to prevent electoral malpractice.
The Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner elections are only one week away, with seats in all 18 wards across South Tyneside Council, and the Commissioner's seat on Northumbria Police Force, being contested on Thursday 6 May.
And to maintain the UK's tradition of free and fair elections, South Tyneside Council is supporting the Electoral Commission and Crimestoppers charity on their national 'Your Vote is Yours Alone' campaign.
The campaign aims to help prevent electoral fraud by raising awareness of what constitutes unacceptable pressure to influence whether or how someone casts their vote. This could range from intimidation or bribery to impersonating someone else and casting their vote.
South Tyneside Council's Returning Officer, John Rumney said: "The people of South Tyneside will be heading to the polling stations on Thursday 6 May. They have the right to vote for whoever they want and be confident that their vote counts.
"Unfortunately, on rare occasions, some people may try to manipulate our electoral system and commit electoral fraud. Many people may not be aware that such actions constitute a crime.
"The campaign aims to raise awareness of the potential for electoral fraud. It is imperative that people know that their vote is theirs alone and that it is illegal for anyone to influence a person to vote against their will. The campaign helps voters know what to do if they suspect they are a victim of electoral fraud."
Electoral fraud offences include:
Pretending to be someone else to use their vote;
False application to register to vote;
Tampering with ballot papers or postal ballot packs;
Influencing voters through intimidation or threats;
Influencing voters through bribery or 'treating' with gifts.
Ailsa Irvine, Director of Electoral Administration and Guidance at the Electoral Commission, said: "Whether you are voting in person at a polling station on 6 May or completing your postal vote at home, it's important that your vote is yours alone.
"No one should feel pressured to vote a certain way. While proven cases of electoral fraud are rare, it remains a serious crime and those who commit it can be sentenced to time in prison."
Mark Hallas, Chief Executive of the charity Crimestoppers, said: "The UK has a long tradition of maintaining a trustworthy electoral system where abuses, such as voter fraud, are thankfully rare. However, when it does happen it undermines that reputation, which is why it is crucial that anyone who has concerns or suspicions speaks up anonymously via our charity.
"Our UK Contact Centre is open 24/7 and available online via Crimestoppers-uk.org or by calling freephone 0800 555 111. We never ask or take personal details and have always kept our promise of anonymity to everyone who trusts us with their information."
Anyone who thinks they have witnessed electoral fraud can call the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org