East London boroughs see confusion and modest turn out in AV vote

A polling station in Croydon

Turn out has been disapointing at polling stations across Lewisham, Croydon, Tower Hamlets and Hackney as residents say “yes” or a “no” to the Alternative Vote reform in the first national referendum since 1975.

According to one officer in a polling station in Croydon, the turnout for the referendum has been tepid and comparable to a local election.

In Hackney, an hour after the polling stations opened at 7am this morning, only a dozen people had visited the polling station at Holmleigh primary school to make their choice between first past the post and AV. By 11am, Mountford estate was seeing an average of 20 people per hour brave the morning drizzle. Mary from Hackney told East London Lines “I won’t be voting, they’re all the same anyway”.

A similar spirit was evident in Lewisham where an officer at one polling station said that many elderly voters were confused about what the referendum was about, apparently querying where they could vote Labour or Conservative. Meanwhile officers repeatedly explained to one man that a yes vote was not a vote for the first past the post system. Lewisham had a very low turnout and one officer noted that a sign saying “referendum”, next to the one reading “Polling Station”, might have given people a better idea about what today’s vote was for.

There was also an apparently low turnout in Tower Hamlets. However one local casting his vote in Whitechapel was confident that residents would be out to vote in large numbers during the day, declaring that voting in the AV referendum was paramount not only for Tower Hamlet residents but for the country as a whole.

Further south, in Croydon, an average of 25 people per hour were heading to the Oval Primary school by lunchtime.

Although the level of postal voting is yet to be ascertained, the modest number of voters seems to follow a wider London trend. David Cameron was prompted to claim today that the low turnout could end with a result that fails to represent the general national point of view.

That there are no local elections in London is one of the factors being blamed for deterring voters from heading to the polling stations. However one voter in Croydon, who didn’t want to be named, said he believed that the lack of momentum from campaigns on both sides had built little enthusiasm amongst Londoners to go out and vote.

Under the AV system, if nobody gets a majority in the first count, the person with the least votes is eliminated and their second preference votes (or third preferences if they were the second choice of someone who voted for the first candidate to be eliminated) are redistributed to all remaining candidates. This continues until one candidate has 50 per cent or more of the vote.

If more people vote ‘yes’ than ‘no’ the ‘alternative vote’ system will be used for future elections to the House of Commons.

Reporting on this story by Laura Scheiter and Joshua Thorpe.

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