FIVE YEARS since the last general election, Hackney council has again left residents not knowing until the last minute whether they will be able to vote.
In 2010 the Labour council’s chief executive, Tim Shields, made such a mess that he declined his fee for acting as returning officer.
This time locals found themselves being sent to the wrong polling station or having to spend hours at the town hall trying to confirm their right to vote.
Retired businessman Ali Agir was one. A change of address, of which he says he notified the town hall in good time, meant that he had no voting-registration number.
After two hours trying to get the attention of harassed clerks, he was given a number and told to vote in Dalston which, with a little help from Loving Dalston, he did. A happy ending.
Rival parties were critical.
Hackney LibDems said: “It is clear that years of Hackney being a de facto one-party state have bred an attitude of contempt for democracy.
“How could the council have disenfranchised voters two elections running?” It was time for the Mayor to accept responsibility and resign.
Hackney South and Shoreditch candidate Charlotte George described Hackney’s election planning as “shambolic”.
She added: “The council’s mistakes have denied voters their democratic rights and the people of Hackney are understandably angry. We hope there will be an inquiry into how, yet again, some people in Hackney have been denied their right to vote.”
Conservative candidate for Hackney North Amy Gray said: “We’re really concerned to hear about the problems which so many people in Hackney have had in trying to vote today.
“We know that many of our supporters haven’t been able to cast their votes as they wished. This mustn’t happen again.”
Andy May, of Homerton, told Loving Dalston he had worked for various groups seeking democratic reform.
He said: “I saw someone turned away from a polling station and told they needed their postal vote ballot to vote, but they had not received it.There needs to be an investigation as to just how many people are affected.
“It is also worrying, after the problems of 2010, when hundreds of Hackney residents were turned away from polling stations due to excessive queues, that such a big problem has happened again.”
Thomas Clements, in his first election, said: “I was one of the many Hackney residents without a polling card.”
Other would-be voters spoke of being told yesterday Wed 060515 that their polling cards would be “despatched the next day” — election day.
The scene at the town hall was described as “chaos” as many people demanded polling cards.
Polling stations were supposed to be open until 10 but frustrated residents said they were told: “Get here by 5pm or you can’t vote.”
Hackney blamed technical problems. It did not reveal what Shields’s was due to be paid for running — or trying to run — the elections in Hackney.
It is doubtful whether an apology from the town hall boss will be enough this time. Perhaps an expert should be hired for the next general election. Plenty of time, then — that could, of course, be five years away.
David Altheer 070515
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