Review of Bristol elections calls for widespread changes

Confidence in the administration of elections by Bristol Council was badly shaken this May after a series of problems, including ballot papers found in the wrong place, election results taking 6 hours longer than expected to be declared and numerous phone calls going unanswered. A detailed review of electoral administration was subsequently ordered and it has called for major changes.

The Bristol Evening Post reported,

Apart from more than half of the election phone queries going unanswered, the office for the council’s electoral services department in the Corn Exchange has been described as “woefully inadequate”. One of Ms Dixon’s many recommendations to the council is to find alternative accommodation.

Then we come to the poll cards, a total of 500,000 of which were distributed to households for the general and local elections.

It is not essential to take your polling card with you when you vote although it does help. Nonetheless, Ms Dixon discovered that 1,373 poll cards in the Bristol West constituency were not printed. This was due to human error when a sequence number was incorrectly entered on a print run.

On postal voting, a number of problems occurred. On April 23, 2,381 Bristol East postal ballot papers were sent to voters in Bristol West by mistake. This led to checks which discovered that parliamentary postal ballot papers had also been issued incorrectly in Knowle ward because Bristol East papers had been wrongly packed for Bristol South.

The reason for this glitch was apparently due to a software problem. A constituency boundary change which had been correctly entered into the software did not follow through to the printing of the ballot papers. Another of Ms Dixon’s recommendations is an updating of the software programme…

When the postal votes were opened and checked, the problems really began to take off, thanks to postal votes being put into the wrong ballot boxes. This led to discrepancies in ballot paper totals and votes being “lost” and then “found”.

Among the blunders were:

● 165 Bishopston postal votes placed in a Bishopsworth ballot box.

● 225 Postal votes in Brislington East were mixed up with a ballot box for Brislington West.

● postal votes in Bristol North West were incorrectly put into a ballot box for Henleaze.

● the discovery of 685 ballot papers for Bishopsworth in the Bedminster box.

Ms Dixon said there was “a strong perception of lack of transparency in the process of moving ballot papers through the process”.

“Although verbal briefings took place, it seemed that many candidates and agents had little or no information as to why packets of votes were arriving and being added in at a late stage,” said Ms Dixon.

“This lack of transparency and communication led to descriptions of votes being ‘lost’ and then ‘found’, which although incorrect, gained currency as a description of events.”

During the parliamentary counts, the main bone of contention was the length of time taken before results were declared. People complained as count staff were “sitting doing nothing” leading to the conclusion that management was poor and that resources were not being fully utilised to enable speedy progress.

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