Electoral Commission imposes voting limits to avoid repeat of polling station queues

A limit on the maximum number of people eligible to vote at a polling station has been imposed by the Electoral Commission under the powers given to its Chief Executive, Jenny Watson, to run the AV referendum in May.

Under the law for referendums, Jenny Watson is the Chief Counting Officer and thereby able to issue instructions as to how the vote should be conducted around the country. Because the referendum is being held on the same day as other elections, many of those instructions in effect also apply to the other elections as well.

One of these is the instruction that no polling station should have to serve an electorate greater than 2,500 (excluding postal voters). This is in response to the problems with queues at polling stations at 10pm on the night of the last general election, which were in part due to some polling stations having been allocated a far larger number of electors.

Although the government has not yet decided to proceed to changing the law to allow those queuing at 10pm to still be able to vote, this instruction for May’s ballots means polling day will be conducted in better circumstances than last year’s election.

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This entry was posted in Election law.


  • Am I right in thinking that a polling place may have several polling stations?

  • Its too late to change buildings now, you can only do so after a local consultation so my belief is there will be more ‘polling rooms’ in each building.

    However most sensible local authorities have been working to similar numbers so there shouldn’t be a massive change.

  • Surely this is a pretty big adminstrative change to land on Returning Officers at this short a notice.

    I don’t see how you can change buildings now as poll cards are already landing with people where I live (certainly with postal voters telling you where you would vote if you cancelled your PV)

  • Patrick Smith 30th Mar '11 - 6:48pm

    The instruction that no polling station shall serve more than 2,500 voters on the local electorate seems to be a good move to ease any potential voter congestion in future.

    The rule change to allow any legitimate listed voters to still vote even if stopped by dint of any queuing, as was the case at a few congested polling stations on May 5th 2010, still has to be resolved.

    I advise that if again any listed voter is stopped from voting before 10 p.m. or advertised closure of the polling station that voter/s should still be allowed to vote, if the senior station polling officer declares so and that special arrangments immediately made to allow late voting under such deemed extraneous circumstances should now apply.

  • Mark that is good to know. As someone who got their card today I was wondering how that was going to work!

    Also as a tory I wish my own party would cover this kind of important minutiae (contradiction in terms I know).

  • Harry Hayfield 31st Mar '11 - 8:23am

    My old polling district at the Welsh referendum had one two polling booths and one ballot box for just under 900 electors (and that was a community council area that covered three villages). I cannot say how big the electorate is for the district I am in at the moment, but they seem to cope well with a small village hall. Perhaps this is aimed solely at large towns and cities only?

  • Am I alone in finding this top-down instruction heavy-handed, crude and illiberal?

    Surely what’s needed are local ROs who know their patches?

    Within my local authority area there are patches which will turn out at 50-60% in May, others at 15-20%. So how is 2,500 voters suddenly the ‘correct’ figure?

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