Election Shambles - UPDATED

Is anybody as cross about this as I am?

For those not in the know, today was polling day for the UK General Election. The organisation of the voting has been absolutely shambolic. The polling stations were set to close at 10p.m. Since then, we have had the following reports:

  • At a number of polling stations, a sufficient number of polling booths had not been made available to cater for the number of voters in the constituency, resulting in long queues of people who, when the doors were shut at 10 o' clock, were denied their legal right to vote.
  • At other polling stations, an insufficient number of ballots was held, so that voters turned up and were unable to vote.
  • In one constituency (so far), the electoral list had not been updated to reflect people who had moved to the area. They had registered to vote, been sent their polling cards directing them where to go to cast their vote, only to arrive at the polling station and be turned away because they did not appear on the list.
One contributory factor was that the results of an interesting but actually completely unnecessary preliminary exit poll were published shortly after 10 o' clock, which could have potentially influenced voters. The result of this is that some returning officers felt that they could not permit potential voters in after that time. One explicitly said in his apology that this is one course of action that could not be taken. He has been undone by the fact that this is precisely what was done at other polling stations in order to enable people to vote. As Lord Mandelson said, if influence by the result of the exit poll was indeed a concern, there is no good reason why the queueing masses could not have been taken into the station and the doors shut. (Update: 07/05/2010: It was later clarified by the Electoral Commission that the regulations themselves require a 10 o' clock closure).

There are a number of problems that arise from this. One is that results in certain constituencies may possibly be open to legal challenge because some people were not allowed to vote or because some people were allowed to vote after the publication of the exit poll results.

I have been watching the BBC coverage of the election and as those turned away have been interviewed, I have found myself sharing their indignation. It is absolutely disgusting that, in a democracy, people could be denied the right to vote for no good reason. I just don't understand and I really am quite cross.

I look forward to seeing how this works out in days to come.

4 responses:

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

There are rumblings of legal action being taken to nullify the results of the election on the basis of people not being allowed to vote, according to the TV coverage at some unearthly o'clock when my DH turned on the bedroom TV.

An utterly shambolic scenario - how hard is it to make sure you have enough ballot papers, and polling officials to be able to "process" the voters, for heaven's sake ?...........

Mark said...

I am not cross about the first point, because many people leave it too late to vote. The law is that one must have been issued one's ballot paper by 2200hrs...

Michael said...

That would be very worrying, Elizabeth, but I can understand it. I don't know the law well enough to say whether the events of last night provide grounds for such action but it's a frightening thought.

You're right, Mark. It was after I posted this that I learnt from seeing the interview with the representative of the Electoral Commission that the regulations require a 10 o' clock closure. Prior to that, the conversations about it on the BBC had centred on the exit poll results as the motivation for the perceived urgency in closing.

When I worked in Chester, and sometimes when I worked in Wythenshawe right here in Manchester, I would be travelling to work at 6.30 in the morning and getting home at 8.30 in the evening so I'm not sure this can all be put down to people leaving it until the last minute. For many people, this would have been their first opportunity to get there.

Some of the people interviewed reported long queues from 6/7 o' clock, so they decided to try at a later time. Because of experience from from my past employment, I am one of the people who will join a long queue and wait, rather than try again later but I really don't think that it is unreasonable to expect to arrive at a polling station with nearly an hour to spare and be able to vote. One chap who was interviewed said he joined the queue at about 9.10 and was near the front when the doors were closed.

Three polling booths and skeletal staff, (which, from anecdotal evidence is what existed in many places), is not sufficient provision to process the number of voters. They failed in their duty and had no contingency plan.

That said, I grant that those who arrived without their polling cards were also highly irresponsible and added to the strain already placed on limited resources.

Lord Pontivillian the Fourth, of the Pantalon Dynasty said...

I agree with you Michael.

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