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Electoral Commission to investigate polling chaos

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 06 May 2010

The Electoral Commission has promised "a thorough investigation" after hundreds of voters were unable to cast their votes in several cities.

The Electoral Commission is to investigate reports of hundreds of voters being turned away from polling stations which were unable to cope with a late surge. Police were called in a number of places as voters complained they were unable to vote in Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and several parts of London.

The polls closed at 10pm, but in many places there were still queues at that time.

Voters in Hackney, east London, were turned away from a polling station in Triangle Road after some had been forced to queue for more than an hour and a half.

Would-be voters staged a sit-in protest at the building after the ballot boxes closed and police had to be called.

Liz Veitch, the last person to vote at the polling station after waiting for more than an hour and a half, said the queue had been snaking out of the building and down the street.

Police were called to a polling station in Manwood Road, Lewisham, south London, where around 300 people had yet to vote by 10pm, Scotland Yard said.

There were also reports of problems in Leeds, but leeds City Council denied that voters had been turned away there.

Voters were turned away from polling stations in Sheffield Hallam, where Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was standing. Returning officers said many were students who did not have polling cards - which are not  necessary, but speed the process up.

But two Sheffield University Students we spoke to accused the returning officers of discriminating against students. They said that because of the crowds, the the presiding officer started discriminating between students and “residents”; the residents having access to a fast track queue to vote whilst students were held back.

Channel 4 News Correspondent Nick Martin writes from Sheffield:
When a student, Ben Pearce, challenged Mr Globe, he at first said that he was prioritising adults with small children, and disabled or the elderly.

However, the students said there was no evidence of such discrimination, of which would have been accepted and supported by many students.

Later he appeared to change his argument claiming that "students don’t bring their polling cards" - although the students told Channel 4 News that a vast majority did have their documents. It was also discriminative, the student said, since there is no legal requirement to bring the polling card in order to vote. The discrimination was unjust the students added.

As both students, and also residents who had refused to separate into a different queue on principle in support of students, continued to question Mr Globe he made statements to the nature of "students only vote because their union registered them" and claimed that "students haven’t turned up in the past" which they said they fond offensive and irrelevant to the right and equal opportunity to vote.

Some students were waiting outside in the rain for over two hours, watching whilst older local residents were ushered in and out within 20 minutes.

Some attempted a sit-in after being turned away, they said, but left after a police riot van arrived.

There was confusion over whether or not the polls could be extended - most polling stations refused to do so, but voters in Lewisham, south London, said they had been allowed another half hour to vote.

The Electoral Commission said in a statement: "It is a cause for serious concern that many people who wanted to vote today were unable to do so by 10pm when polls closed.

"Each Returning Officer is responsible for deciding  numbers of polling stations in their constituency and the numbers of electors allocated to each polling station.

"By law, polls must close at 10pm and any voter issued with a ballot paper by 10pm should be allowed time to cast it, but no ballot paper should be issued after 10pm".

Were you directly affected by the polling disruption? Tell us your story. Contact:

A spokesman for Gordon Brown said the Prime Minister was "very concerned by the reports and would support a thorough investigation into them".

David Cameron thanked local officials in his constituency when making his victory speech, but was angry at the disruption at many polling stations.

He said: "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."

The Commission said it would undertake "a thorough review of what has happened in those constituencies where people have been unable to vote".

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