Electoral Commission reports on poll problems

Polling station, Hackney. Photo: Kieron Yates.

The Electoral Commission has published an initial report into voting problems that occurred on the night of the May 6 elections. The report states that while the problems were not widespread, some voters were badly let down and some who were running elections failed to follow guidelines laid down by the commission.

Of the 17 constituencies that form the focus of the initial review, two are in Hackney. The report states that according to figures supplied by the returning officer’s office, a total of 272 Hackney voters were turned away from polling stations without being able to vote. This figure however, as the report states, does not include people who may have gone to polling stations but left without voting because of prolonged waits.

In relation to voting problems in Hackney, the report says polling stations were busy throughout the day and extra booths were requested by presiding officers at some stations. Six polling stations experienced problems at close of voting. The stations that experienced problems served the same number of constituents and had the same level of staffing as other unaffected stations in the constituency.

The most badly affected polling station, the Ann Taylor Centre in Triangle Road,  had 134 queuing voters who were refused ballot papers as polling closed, and police were called to break up a sit-in. The report notes that the presiding officer at the Ann Taylor Centre did request an extra member of staff, but this proved to be insufficient and too late.

At 10 pm presiding officers at affected stations contacted the elections office for advice on what to do at close of polling. At about 10pm the acting returning officer for Hackney, Tim Shields, phoned the Electoral Commision to confirm he was correct to close polling despite queuing voters still being present in polling stations.

Identifying factors nationally that led to the voting problems, the Commission points to four issues: poor planning and staffing assumptions; use of unsuitable buildings; contingency arrangements not being properly triggered; and restrictive regulation.

To avoid future problems the report suggests UK legislation should be changed to allow all who are within the precinct of a polling station at 10 pm to be allowed to vote. Also, as part of a comprehensive electoral modernisation strategy, the UK Government should consider advance polling to provide more flexible options for people wanting to vote, and returning officers should be given statutory powers to use any public building as a polling station.

Hackney’s acting returning officer, Tim Shields, has come in for criticism over the way voting was run and has been under pressure to waive his fee for overseeing the election.

Returning officer may waive fee

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