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Polling station pantomime: Thousands could sue after lockouts in key marginals

Posted by seumasach on May 11, 2010

Daily Mail

8th May, 2010

Britain is engulfed in the biggest voting scandal of modern times after thousands of people were locked out of the polls in at least 25 seats, some of them crucial marginals.

Lawyers warned that the fiasco opened the way for a series of court challenges which could leave the fate of a new government in the hands of judges for months to come.

There were even claims that every voter who had missed out on exercising their democratic rights could win £750 compensation.

Independent commentators and historians said the failures at the polls left Britain shamed in the eyes of the world.

The humiliation was all the deeper because the election was being monitored by a team of Commonwealth observers from countries including Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Voters were turned away from polling stations in towns across the country, including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York.

In most cases voters in long queues were turned back when polling closed at 10pm. However, in Liverpool Wavertree, polling stations ran out of ballot papers and in Brent in North London the wrong papers were given to would-be voters.

A Daily Mail analysis shows that voters were turned away in at least five seats where the majority of the winning candidate was less than 2,000, the likely threshold for a viable legal challenge to the result.

Constituencies affected included Sheffield Central, where Labour had a majority of just 165, Warrington South, where Labour won by 1,553 votes, Brent Central, where the Liberal Democrats had a majority of 1,345, and Sutton Coldfield, where the Lib Dems secured a 1,608 majority

Manchester Withington, where the lock-out of voters provoked protests at the city’s town hall, gave the Lib Dems a 1,864 majority.

Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg  –  whose Sheffield Hallam constituency was at the heart of voting difficulties  –  all called for an inquiry into the fiasco, while the Electoral Commission, the quango set up by Labour to regulate elections, blamed returning officers for blundering and incompetence. Some returning officers blamed the voters for turning up too late.

Under the rules, defeated candidates can petition for an election to be declared void and re-run, but the Human Rights Act has opened new possibilities for voters to claim compensation.

Damages for each individual might be a few hundred pounds, but the total could run into millions.

Last night the spokesman for returning officers admitted: ‘Serious mistakes were made. This can’t happen again.’

David Monks, chief executive of Huntingdonshire Council, blamed a Victorian voting system, mistakes by officials, and polling stations which were allotted too many voters.

Mr Monks, who speaks for returning officers through the council chief executives’ organisation SOLACE, said: ‘In certain areas a lot of people have come out at some time in the evening, after work, feeding the family or being down the pub, and they have all come out at the same time.

‘The Victorian system can’t deal with spikes.’

Last night the Commonwealth delegates offered their advice to improve British democracy.

On behalf of the Commonwealth Observation Team, Jamaican MP and former Miss World Lisa Hanna said there were ‘inherent vulnerabilities’ in the British electoral system and that a full report at the end of the month would ‘cover the inconsistencies we saw’.

Miss Hanna added that the group was concerned that voters are not required to produce identification.

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