Voting surge crisis

Polling station in Lewisham. Photo: Cat Wiener

A massive surge in late voting, with long queues outside polling stations, has delayed the counting for the Lewisham constituencies.

At Crofton Park in Lewisham Deptford, an agent for Conservative candidate Gemma Townsend described seeing between 100 and 150 people still queuing shortly after 9.30pm, and some confusion ensuing when voters were told they would be unable to vote. Similar scenes occurred at New Cross. Liberal Democrat candidate for Lewisham West and Penge Alex Feakes said they had encountered the same problems in Catford and Forest Hill, but praised the way the council had dealt with the issue. Sitting MP Joan Ruddock told East London Lines that as soon as she became aware of the problem she lodged a formal complaint and the decision was made by acting returning officer Barry Quirk to bring everyone in, close the doors and issue ballot papers before 10 pm so that all those queuing could vote. This is in contrast to the extraodinary situation in Hackney where there were reports of hundreds of voters being locked out and unable to vote. However, Darren Johnson of the Green Party was disturbed that the problem had arisen, blaming lack of planning: “It’s not what you expect in a democracy”.

A spokesman for Lewisham Council told East London Lines reporter Cat Wiener:

“In our preparations we had anticipated a large number of people might arrive late in the evening to vote. Presiding officers had been advised to make sure that all people queuing were brought into the polling station and issued with ballot papers prior to 10pm. This meant we were able to comply with legal provisions and make sure people were not disenfranchised. Two of our polling stations experienced late queues but we were able to find a pragmatic solution to allow people to vote while remaining within the law.”

Election agents also reported similar problems at Manwood Road and Catford. The crisis mirrored the situation in other parts of the country, but it does not appear that any voters in Lewisham were driven to stage angry sit-down protests at polling stations.

The Electoral Commission is to investigate the widespread problems across the country.

The delay caused to counting in Lewisham means that the first declaration, for Lewisham East, was not made until 8.30am, with its final Lewisham Deptford declaration coming in around an hour later.

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