Inquiry will look into UK voting problems

18:25, May 07, 2010      

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The Electoral Commission has said it will hold an inquiry to see what went wrong after hundreds of voters found themselves unable to cast their vote in Britain's election.

As the 10 pm deadline passed, many voters found themselves locked out in long queues. There were problems in parts of London, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Surrey.

Social networking sites were alive with comments and complaints. Voters posted pictures on Twitter and videos on YouTube showing angry residents arguing with officials at polling stations. Many people said they were "fuming" and "very unhappy" that they had not been able to exercise their democratic right to vote.

The main political parties all expressed concerns and some results may be challenged. Meanwhile the Electoral Commission announced a "thorough review" of the situation. "Clearly we are going to look at this. The government is going to look at this. It may be that the law needs to change," the chair of the Electoral Commission, Jenny Watson said.

In one incident police were called to a polling station in Lewisham, south London, where about 300 people had still to vote by 10 pm. In Hackney, in east London, angry would-be voters staged a sit-in when polls closed. In his Sheffield Hallam constituency, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg went to offer his apologies to frustrated voters at a polling station in Ranmoor after they queued for more than three hours.

Much of the reason behind the problems was a lack of staff, but in some cases polling stations even ran out of ballot papers.

A spokesman for Gordon Brown said the prime minister was "very concerned" about the reports of people being turned away from polling stations and "would support a thorough investigation into them".

David Cameron also expressed his concern. "An early task for a new government is to get to the bottom of what has happened and make sure that it never happens again," he said.

The incidents sparked much debate in television studios. BBC political editor Nick Robinson said, "What a tragedy that, after a campaign which engaged and energised many who were previously cynical about politics, tonight's story may be being over-shadowed by the extraordinary revelation that Britain cannot competently run the most basic part of the democratic process."

The anger amongst the electorate was clear as television stations and news organisations received an overwhelming response from viewers. Jo-Ann Stranger, who failed to vote in Hackney South and Shoreditch, said it was an outrage. "I, along with about 100 other people, were turned away from our local polling station, having waited 45 minutes to vote. The officers closed the door on the queue at 9.50 pm, refusing entry to anyone standing outside," she said. "It is an outrage in a civilised country like ours that this can happen, especially to people who are trying to vote after doing a day's work."

Kathy Murray, from Withington, Manchester, said, "I'm fuming. I queued for over an hour and had the doors shut on me, along with about 250 others, at 10pm."

Many described bad planning. "I am outraged that the council only provided one polling station with three booths in Leeds city centre. The queues were over 30 minutes long at least since 5pm. I was chatting to people in the queue at 9.30pm who came to vote earlier in the day but went away due to the length of the queue, and returned in the evening to find the same situation," Elaine from Leeds wrote on the BBC website.

Sam Shore from Hackney said he was "astounded" to have been denied the right to vote. "I arrived in good time to cast my vote, at 8.30pm, and after queuing for an hour and a half was turned away at 10pm. At least several hundred people were in the queue behind me. Surely something has to be done about this."

There may be more than an inquiry. Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC told ITV News that people denied the right to vote could take legal action. "These people have a right to sue," he said, "They will get at least 750 pounds (1,100 U.S. dollars) in my view. Under the European Convention you have a right to vote. They were terribly disappointed, they should all sue and get money from the election commission, which seems to have incompetently overseen it."

The Electoral Commission said each returning officer decided the number of polling stations in their constituency and the number of electors allocated to each station. "There should have been sufficient resources allocated to ensure that everyone who wished to vote was able to do so," a statement said.

If a legal challenge was successful in any of the areas, then the candidate would be unseated and a by-election called.

Source: Xinhuanet


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