ELECTION 2010: VOTERS TURNED AWAY AS POLLS CLOSE
An inquiry will be held after hundreds of voters were turned away from polling stations and police called to deal with queues as the voting deadline passed.
There were problems in parts of London, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Surrey.
One Sheffield official said the turnout had probably been the highest for 30 years and “it caught us out”.
The Electoral Commission announced a “thorough review”. Voters said they were “fuming” and “very unhappy”.
The main parties all expressed concerns and some results may be challenged.
Electoral Commission chair Jenny Watson said: “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 law say poll doors must close at 2200 BST and no ballot papers are issued after that time, although everyone who has a ballot paper by then must be able to vote.
Among the incidents:
• Police were called to a polling station in Lewisham, south London, where about 300 people had still to vote by 2200 BST.
• In Hackney, 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.
• Doors were closed on 200 potential voters in Ladybarn in Withington, Manchester.
• In Liverpool, voters were left waiting when one polling station ran out of ballot papers.
• Voters were turned away amid long queues in St Paul's Church in Birmingham, and long queues were reported in Mere Green polling station in Sutton Coldfield.
• There were reports of voters being turned away after long queues in Weybridge, Surrey.
• Long queues were reported at two polling stations in Newcastle.
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”.
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
Voters share their frustrations
Q&A: Voting problems
Conservative Party leader David Cameron thanked officials in his Witney constituency for a well-run election day, but said that had not been the case in some parts of the country.
“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.
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.”
Many voters contacted the BBC to say they had been denied the chance to vote because the polls closed while they were still queuing.
Jenny Watson, Electoral Commission: “The law on voting is extremely clear”
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 9.50pm, 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.
“Whether it will affect the vote, I don't know, but the election cannot stand, given the number of voters potentially unable to vote this evening.”
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.
“We initially went at 6pm, but it was too busy so we went back an hour later, but there were still big queues.
“We went back at 9pm but after waiting for an hour, we still couldn't vote.”
In Sheffield, returning officer John Mothersole apologised to voters who were turned away, saying: “We got this wrong.”
He said the turnout had been “phenomenal… probably the highest turnout in 30 years”.
Deputy returning officer Lee Adams said about 200 people were turned away at Ranmoor and police dealt with a crowd of approximately 100 angry would-be voters.
She apologised and admitted staff struggled to cope, adding: “We increased the staffing at about 4pm when the staff told us they needed help.
These people have a right to sue – they will get at least £750 in my view
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC
“Unfortunately, the combination of the numbers turning up and the fact that many were students and didn't have their polling cards just meant it took longer to process.”
But one presiding officer, Nick Baldev, laid some of the blame on voters, telling the BBC: “Many did not have their polling cards, which significantly adds time. Some people went to the wrong polling station.
“And… the absolute laziness from the elector by not joining queues when they arrive, returning at a later time only to find a longer line and re-returning at 2200 BST, which, as it clearly states, is closing time.”
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 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.