Hundreds of voters will miss out on the chance to have their say by post in next week's local elections because of a mix-up.

Poll cards that would have allowed as many as 900 electors in Oxford to vote by post were delivered AFTER the deadline by which they should have been returned.

Now embarrassed election officers at Oxford City Council have apologised for the mistake.

The poll cards tell voters that anyone who is away or unable to reach a polling station on May 4 can apply for a postal, or proxy, vote. But these applications had to be made by April 13 and many of the cards did not drop on to doormats until five days later. Electoral services manager Martin John said: "The deadlines were tighter this year because Easter was so late.

The exact number of late cards is not clear, but it is no higher than 900 less than one per cent of the total."

He added: "In recent years the council has brought forward the delivery date to enable as many people as possible to apply for an absentee vote.

Late delivery has never happened on this scale before and the council will take steps to make sure it never happens again."

The council delivered more than 100,000 poll cards by hand and delivery was expected to be complete by April 3. But one of the delivery agents failed to meet the deadline "for personal reasons".

Thursday's elections cover a third of the members of Oxford City Council, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell district councils.

Jason Tomes, Conservative candidate for the Wolvercote ward, was among those to receive a late poll card.

Mr Tomes, of Stratfield Road, said: "This incident, small though it may be, perfectly illustrates why Oxford City Council came 223rd out of 238 in the latest efficiency table of local authorities. And this comes after a year of pious talk about encouraging a higher turn-out in local elections."

*There will be full coverage of the council elections in your Oxford Mail next week.