Polling Fiasco Update

The voting fiasco that took place in Manchester Withington on polling day on Thursday May 6th should never happen again.

There were problems at three polling stations in Manchester Withington constituency that resulted in voters being turned away and denied the right to vote.
The three polling stations in question which have been reported to Manchester city council chief executive Howard Bernstein and the electoral commission were Didsbury United Reformed Church, Fallowfield Bowling & Lawn Tennis Club, and Ladybarn Community Centre.

All three of the above polling stations had real problems on polling day which resulted in voters being turned away unable to vote at 10pm it is estimated just over 200 people missed out on the opportunity to vote in Manchester Withington constituency.

There were angry scenes at Ladybarn Community Centre which resulted in the police being called to deal with the situation.

This polling station, covering two polling districts in Withington ward part of the Manchester Withington constituency was responsible for 6,655 parliamentary electors in Manchester Withington.

I have reported this to both the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council and the electoral commission.  I’m certainly going to be pushing the government for a change in the law to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote if they’ve made the effort to go to the polls before 10 o’clock.

What disappointed me was that Ladybarn Community Centre was responsible for 6,655 parliamentary voters double the usual number of voters, yet did not allocate an appropriate number of staff using only one table for the registers and only four voting booths in which to cast one’s vote.

We did voice concerns on May 6th about the queues that were developing in the Ladybarn polling station and recommended that more staff should be allocated to deal with the queues.

The cost cutting nature of this Labour-run Manchester City Council has cost democracy here in Manchester Withington and this must never happen again.

I am of the view that if you arrive before 10pm then you are entitled to vote, many people are stating that people left it too late.

I would argue that this is contradictory as it incorporates a prejudged view that there will be a substantial delay and a queue expected in the polling station when in fact it should take less than three minutes for someone to be ticked off a list and be issued a piece of paper on which to vote.  I will be pressing the government as to an explanation as to why it took so long and procedures must be put in place that this must never happen again.

Yesterday the Electoral Commission released a report about the fiasco and highlighted a number of key points:

  • It highlighted the need to change the legislation with regards to the way polling stations operate;  it concluded that the number of voters able to vote at each polling station needs to be scaled to the amount of staff and voting booths.
    I have been calling for this be changed and am delighted we are finally making progress on this.
  • It was in agreement with me about the need to review the number of polling stations to deal with the increased turnout.
  • Interestingly, it noted that there were real delays caused by polling clerks having to explain to some voters why they could only vote in one election and not the other.  I feel this shows the real need to cease joint elections to prevent this happening in future.

As a result of this report I have contacted Sir Howard Bernstein (Chief Executive of Manchester City Council) again to offer him further constructive suggestions about how to improve the situation in future.

The report from the Electoral Commission can be found here Interim-Report-Polling-Station-Queues-3.

Jenny Watson (Chair of the Electoral Commission) also wrote to me highlighting the findings of the report and suggesting further action, you can view this  here Letter from Jenny Watson to John Leech MP

I will be addressing the situation in parliament and will keep you all informed with the latest progress.

11 responses to “Polling Fiasco Update

  1. Dear Mr Leech,

    The correct name of one of the polling stations mentioned is Didsbury United Reformed Church (please note the “ed” in Reformed).

    Best wishes,
    Ruth Shepherd

    • No, and nor should he; the missed votes would’ve made no difference to his winning re-election.

      • But knowing that he would team up with George Osborne, cutting us into economic depression, would have done.

        • I don’t believe any combination of the major parties would have avoided the cuts. The only difference of opinion was on timing.

  2. NFT – Of course the longest recession since records began was not the fault of the Labour Government, Liam Byrne was wrong when he said there’s no money left and of course Miliband and Balls were against the Iraq war all along.

    NOT

    The old politics is over, long live the new politics! Viva la coalition.

    • Today’s ST:
      ‘AT least 300,000 Whitehall and other public sector workers may lose their jobs as the coalition government sets to work cutting the £156 billion budget deficit.
      Some estimates suggest that the number of job losses could reach 700,000. These will include tens of thousands of health service managers as well as many thousands of doctors and nurses, according to internal documents from the National Health Service.
      Ministers have tried to insist that any public sector job losses would be mainly among the “penpushing” bureaucrats, but answers received under freedom of information requests suggest that a wide variety of different professions will be hit.’

      Also…

      ‘THE new universities minister has given his clearest indication yet that student tuition fees will rise sharply, pushing up debts for undergraduates by thousands of pounds a year. ‘

      Yeah, viva whatever. Tories will always be Tories and vote Tory, but who will ever trust the Lib Dems again? Within 2 years, this country will be in as bad a state as it was in 1981, and the LibDems will be trotting into the lobbies supporting it… or, the coward’s way out, ‘abstaining’.
      Time will prove Brown and Darling’s reaction to the GLOBAL recession right, when we compare it to the Tories ‘cut cut cut’. John Leech will bear his part of the responsibility, and be judged by the Withington voters accordingly.

  3. Any investigation should interview the people on the polling stations about procedure changes, especially staff who have been on polling stations before. for instance
    - Was there any backup staff that could be moved around?
    - Was there any allowance for normal circumstances? e.g. Withington having higher turnout than other constituencies, or students trying to vote on the way to the pub.
    - Were the lists in different orders i.e. postal address instead of surname?
    - Was the checking procedure more complex?
    - Was due allowance made for two voting slips instead of one?

    It is easy to jump to blame cost cutting.

    See http://manicbeancounter.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/manchester-withington-polling-fiasco/

  4. Thanks for spotting the mistake Ruth. Given that I’m from a non-Conformist background I have no excuse for getting that wrong!

  5. I posted this comment on manicbeancounter’s blog-

    I don’t think that a lack of polling booths was the problem. There were simply too many people expected to vote at certain polling stations – over 6000 at Ladybarn Community Centre. The Council knew that the staff were strugling, but nothing was done to resolve the problem. On top of this many people had to be told why they could vote in the local election, but not the General Election – the Electoral Commission raised this as a problem in the their report.
    The solution (in my opinion), is to ensure that a General Election (where turnout is always higher) should not be on the same day as another election. This should go hand in hand with a change in the law to allow all people to vote who turn up before close of poll, and a complete review on the number of polling stations, to ensure that they have a maximum number of voters, who will all be ble to be accommodated.
    The count took far too lomg, but it didn’t help that both sets of ballot papers were put in the same box. It would have been far quicker if they had been separated. The declaration was about 7.40am, compared to about 2.40am in 2005 (if I remember correctly)- and that was after a recount!

    • Thanks for your considered response.

      If we look at two things that you report – the 6000 voters at Ladybarn Community Centre and taking more than twice the time to report the count compared with last time (9.6 hours v 4.6) – there has clearly been some failure to estimate the resources required. This is further shown by the fact that the other four Manchester constituencies did not suffer the same problems at the polling stations.

      I hope that the investigation looks at how the resource was estimated and compare this with how it was done last time. For instance was any allowance made for different electorates per polling station? Ladybarn, should have had the compacity to process at least 500 voters per hour throughout the date and 1000 voters in the peak hours. Clearly it achieved nothing like this.

      Alongside this I hope there are informal one-to-one open conversations with those operating the polling stations, especially those with previous experiance. That way we may find out small details that could make all the differance.

      A final point is that this is a fairly straightforward resource allocation problem. This Government faces much bigger and far more complex problems in trying to reduce the deficit whilst trying to minimise the pain of reduced services and higher taxes. By first seeking to understand issues and involving people from the grassroots we can all be better served that by a few spin doctors creating daily initiatives to manage the news agenda. An example could be the academies initiative, where better standards could come from diverse approaches and learning from the different experiences.

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