The Electoral Commission has today issued a damning report on the polling day chaos of Thursday 6 May. Of the 27 UK polling stations severely affected by problems, six were in Hackney.
The report has identified numerous deficiencies with the way elections in these polling stations were planned and carried out, deficiencies which can be traced to poor planning of polling stations, under-staffing, and inadequate remedies once problems had been identified on polling day.
Other contributing factors, which could have been foreseen, include the combination of different types of election on the same day, and higher-than-average turnout.
Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said “Returning Officers in the areas affected did not properly plan for, or react to, polling day problems. This is unacceptable. People in these areas were badly let down and have every right to be angry.”
These conclusions chime with the details revealed in by a letter sent to Hackney’s returning officer by Liberal Democrat election agent Reuben Thompson, which recounts a number of highly irregular practices noted by voters and candidates during the electoral process.
These include “a report that at 10pm a voter at Napier Grove had been handed their papers when the clerk decided it was now 10pm, took them back and erased the mark from the register”. The experienced election agent commented that “this is one of the most appalling pieces of behaviour I have ever heard of at an election.”
The letter also notes that “the number disenfranchised in De Beauvoir ward is dangerously close to the difference in votes between the third placed Labour candidate and the fourth placed Liberal Democrat.”
In addition to problems in the polling stations, the process of counting the ballots was also subject to considerable delays and dubious practices.
Thompson notes that “the verification of the votes was, with hindsight, appallingly executed. […] The initial number of people verifying was clearly extremely inadequate. […] When extra staff were brought in to the verification and later counting of the votes it was abundantly clear that many did not know what they were doing and were in effect being trained ‘on the job’. Concerns were raised a number of times about the accuracy of some of the counting staff including two who were wearing headphones.”
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