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Electoral Commission publishes review into polling station queues

Published: 20 May 2010

The Electoral Commission, the independent elections watchdog, has completed its review into why voters in some polling stations were unable to cast their vote before the 10pm deadline on 6 May. The report sets out what needs to be done to avoid a repeat of the problems two weeks ago.

The review found:

  • at least 1,200 people were still queuing at 27 polling stations in 16 constituencies at 10pm
  • in some areas the numbers of electors allocated to particular polling stations were too high and some polling stations had too few staff
  • in all the areas affected there were also local government elections taking place (and, in some, Mayoral elections) which meant it took longer for each voter to vote and arrangements to deal with this were inadequate
  • election officials did not identify and respond quickly enough to the problems that emerged on polling day

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • the law should be changed to allow people still queuing at polling stations at 10pm to be able to vote
  • local authorities and Returning Officers should improve their planning, review their schemes for polling districts and polling stations and make sure they allocate the right numbers of staff and electors to each polling station
  • the structure for delivering elections in Great Britain should be reformed so that elections are managed more consistently and professionally.

Jenny Watson, Chair of The Electoral Commission, said:

“Our review found that some people who arrived before polls closed were unable to vote because Returning Officers did not have discretion to let them vote after 10pm. We are calling for urgent changes to electoral law so that any elector who is entitled to vote and who is queuing at a polling station at the close of poll will be allowed to vote

“However, Returning Officers in the areas affected did not properly plan for, or react to, polling day problems. That is unacceptable. People in these areas were badly let down and have every right to be angry.

“The current system is too fragmented, with hundreds of independent Returning Officers making their own decisions. The Commission has previously called for better co-ordination and accountability, building on existing regional models. And there should be powers to direct Returning Officers where necessary.”

The Commission decided to undertake the review shortly after the close of polls on 6 May when it became apparent that people in some areas who had joined polling station queues before 10pm were unable to cast their vote.

The Commission received evidence from over 500 members of the public on their experiences of polling day and interviewed Returning Officers for the constituencies where problems had been reported.

The Commission will publish a full report into the UK general election and the English local government elections in July, covering all aspects of the running of these elections. If new information emerges concerning polling station queues, this will be included.


For further information contact:
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Outside office hours: 07789 920414

Notes to editors:

1. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections. The responsibility for running elections and overseeing the count lies with Returning Officers and the Electoral Commission reports afterwards on the administration of General Elections in the UK.

2. The Commission has powers to set and monitor performance standards for Returning Officers in Great Britain. These are published on our website at www.electoralcommission.org.uk/performance-standards

3. Read the report in full here: Interim report: review of problems at polling stations at close of poll on 6 May 2010 (PDF).

4. The report covers polling station problems the following constituencies:

  • Birmingham Ladywood (Birmingham)
  • Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Hackney)
  • Hackney South and Shoreditch (Hackney)
  • Islington North (Islington)
  • Lewisham Deptford (Lewisham)
  • Liverpool Wavertree (Liverpool)
  • Garston and Halewood (Liverpool)
  • Manchester Withington (Manchester)
  • Milton Keynes North (Milton Keynes)
  • Newcastle-under-Lyme (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
  • Newcastle upon Tyne East (Newcastle)
  • Newcastle upon Tyne North (Newcastle)
  • Runnymede and Weybridge (Runnymede and Elmbridge)
  • Sheffield Hallam (Sheffield)
  • Sheffield Heeley (Sheffield)
  • Penistone and Stocksbridge (Sheffield)

5. The report also looked at the following constituencies but concluded that voters’ problems were not connected to polling station queues and these will be addressed report on the elections in July:

  • Battersea
  • City of Chester
  • Islington South and Finsbury
  • Manchester Central
  • Newcastle upon Tyne Central
  • Sutton Coldfield
  • Tyneside North

6. The structures are different in Northern Ireland as responsibility for electoral administration in Northern Ireland rests with the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland.