Watchdog calls for changes after British election chaos

20th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's elections watchdog on Thursday slammed failings that stopped at least 1,200 people from voting in the May 6 general election, saying "urgent changes" were required.

Voters in the cities of Sheffield and Manchester angrily confronted polling station officials in the poll, when they were unable to cast ballots because they were stuck in queues when voting ended at 10:00 pm.

The Electoral Commission condemned "inadequate" planning and criticised officials for failing to respond when backlogs built up at polling stations -- an embarrassment in a country used to sending observers to elections abroad.

Hundreds of people were left queuing in 16 parliamentary constituencies when the polls officially closed, an interim report from the watchdog said.

Blasting the "unacceptable" problems on election night, Electoral Commission chairman Jenny Watson said the law must be changed to allow people stuck in queues when the voting deadline passed to still cast their ballot.

"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 10:00 pm," she said.

"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."

Watson was also critical of the top officials in the constituencies affected -- known as returning officers -- for failing to plan for higher numbers of voters than expected.

"Returning officers in the areas affected did not properly plan for, or react to, polling day problems," she said.

"That is unacceptable. People in these areas were badly let down and have every right to be angry."

Politicians from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and the opposition Labour party have united in criticism of the election night chaos.

© 2010 AFP

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