Nothing to Declare

If you work in Hackney then you’ve probably heard about the election nightmare that saw voters disenfranchised, late declarations and some members working for a 36 hour stretch. So what happened?

Well if Dianne Abbot MP, Private Eye, various newspapers and Unison members are to be believed then apparently the poll was short staffed, ill planned and generally poorly managed.

The problems appear to have started when the former Head of Elections, Michael Summerville left Hackney several months back for a new career in Newham.

With the local elections looming and a general election looking imminent the Council decided to take on consultants (on a very lucrative rate) to run the affair.

Concerns were first raised when Tory mayoral hopeful, Andrew Boff’s election address was barred from being included in a booklet sent to all residents following wrangling with the legal department.

On the day some voters found that the candidate information which must by law be displayed in every polling station was incorrect with stations in the north of the borough detailing the candidates for the south and visa versa.

When it came to closing time hundreds of enthusiastic voters were then locked out of the booths as under staffed polling teams struggled to cope with the high demand for electoral rights.

For most that would be bad enough but it was when the ballot boxes finally made it back to the Town Hall that the trouble really started.

All boxes returning from polling stations must first be checked that they are the correct ballot boxes, that they have not been tampered with and ticked off a list to ensure all are accounted for.

This process is long established and normally dealt with swiftly however in Hackney’s case this process seemed to prove too much for the team in charge.

According to some reports from Unison members keys to some ballot boxes were lost and so bolt cutters had to be used to open them!

This and the general shambles caused huge delays in boxes being taken into the Town Hall leading to cars containing ballot boxes backing up along Reading Lane and the surrounding streets.

As if that wasn’t enough it seems that when the boxes were finally brought up to the assembly rooms for counting no one had actually considered the practicalities of counting tens of thousands of ballot papers.

Many staff sat idle as papers were not distributed and issues such as separating out the local and national ballots appeared not to have been planned for at all.    

With time ticking and the country gripped by election fever Hackney did not declare the parliamentary result until 3pm on Friday a full 17 hours after the polls had closed and by far the last in London, with the locals being declared later than that.

Some would argue that events such as this form part of the proceedings, building suspense and adding to the excitement of the event.

But it is also worth considering the implications of charging unaccountable and highly paid consultants with delivering such hugely important projects and who really pays the price when things go wrong.

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