Polling card error may have led to lost votes

Hundreds of voters may have missed out on the European elections after polling cards were not delivered.

Calls have been made for an urgent investigation into the error, which appears to have affected large parts of Kirkhill and some areas of High Stanners in Morpeth.

Northumberland County Council has confirmed that some polling cards were not delivered, but says it does not know how many as it was a Royal Mail issue. Royal Mail said it delivered all the cards it received.

Residents on the electoral register do not need a polling card to vote, but there is concern that without it many may not have realised the date of the election, the location of the polling station or that they could vote without it.

Members of the Morpeth and Wansbeck Conservative group are now trying to determine if the problem was more widespread as Tory candidate Martin Callanan lost his seat by around 2,500 votes.

Figures also suggest there was a lower turn-out from the Kirkhill area, with Storey Park polling station recording a 22 per cent turn-out, compared to an average of 32.4 per cent countywide. In last year’s council elections, the Kirkhill turn-out was 38.3 per cent.

Chairman of Morpeth Conservatives and Conservative Spokesman for Kirkhill Dave Herne said: “The reports that polling cards were not issued are very concerning. People in Kirkhill who always vote in elections will have been waiting for the cards, wrongly, but not unreasonably, assuming that a card is necessary to vote.

“The Conservative team heard from a number of people who thought they could not vote on the day, and from the look of it, about 400 or so people may not have exercised their right as a result, perhaps more.

“I am not saying that this has been done deliberately, but we are very keen to understand how and why this happened.

“The Conservative Party lost a seat in the European elections by just 2,500 votes. Kirkhill has a history of voting Conservative and with increasing levels of support and the votes lost there it would have made the result closer, that much is certain.”

Mr Herne said that when the Party became aware of the problem on polling day last Thursday it asked the county council to hand-deliver correspondence to affected households, but it refused.

Fellow Party member and Morpeth North councillor David Bawn said: “We have more and more people coming forward saying they didn’t get their polling cards in High Stanners, Loansdean and Kirkhill. It is significant because of the fact that the election was extremely close.

“We want a full explanation as to how this happened and an urgent investigation into how may polling cards weren’t sent out. At the moment we only have reports from residents, we need to know the full extent of what happened and why it happened.

“You don’t need a polling card to vote, but many people will not have been aware that there was an election, or thought that they needed a card to vote because that is a common misconception.

“If it is so significant that it could have affected the result of the election then it should be reported to the Electoral Commission.”

Liberal Democrat member for Kirkhill Andrew Tebbutt said: “We know that several people did not receive their polling cards. I will be asking the returning officer whether there has been a problem, if so what was the problem and how bad was it? It needs to be investigated.”

Northumberland County Council did put an alert on its website once it was aware of the problem to inform people that they could still vote without a card.

A spokeswoman said: “All poll cards were issued by us, but some appear not to have been delivered. It is a Royal Mail issue and it is investigating.”

However, Royal Mail spokeswoman Jennifer Bird said: “Royal Mail has delivered all the poll cards for the Morpeth area that it received from another mail operator working for the council. We take the delivery of polling cards very seriously.

“If further evidence can be provided, we would be happy to investigate the matter further.”

The Electoral Commission declined to comment.

Three North East representatives were elected to the European Parliament following last week’s vote. They were Jude Kirton-Darling (Lab), Jonathan William Arnott (UKIP) and Paul Brannen (Lab).

In Northumberland the votes were as follows: An Independence from Europe 1,385; British National Party 963; Conservative Party 19,924; English Democrats 1,008; Green Party 4,393; Labour Party 21,737; Liberal Democrats 7,585; UK Independence Party 21,485.

For the North East region they were: An Independence from Europe 13,934; British National Party 10,360; Conservative Party 107,733; English Democrats 9,279; Green Party 31,605; Labour Party 221,988; Liberal Democrats 36,093 and UK Independence Party 177,660.