Voters turned away from polling stations

Chaos across the UK due to high voter turnout could lead to legal challenges in closely fought seats

A story that looks set to run and run tonight, and into the next few weeks, is that people across the country have been left unable to vote. Many were left queuing outside polling stations, which struggled to deal with an unexpectedly high voter turnout.

It seems that up to 100 people were left queing round the block outside a polling station in Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency and refused the right to vote. The returning officer has apologised in person, saying that many students turned up without polling cards, meaning that it took longer for them to vote.

UPDATE: Video just posted to YouTube from St John's polling station:

The main problem seems to be inconsistency among returning officers across the country. In Manchester, some polling stations closed their doors at 10pm strictly, and told anyone yet to cast their vote that they would not be able to. In other areas, staff ushered voters inside the building and locked the doors behind them, meaning that anyone who had tried to vote before 10pm was able to. Other polling stations stayed open for ten minutes extra, meaning that they voted after the exit polls had come out. Still more ran out of ballot papers.

This could lead to legal challenges in closely fought constituencies. If it is a matter of just a few votes -- entirely possible in this unpredictable race -- the losing candidate could argue that they might have won if all their supporters had been allowed to vote.

Leading Labour figures have wasted no time in paving the way. Speaking on the BBC, Peter Mandelson saids:

I'm concerned about it, as traditionally more Conservatives vote earlier in the day, and Labour people vote later. I am worried about Labour voters not being able to vote.

Update

11.57pm: Chester -- Labour is claiming that more than 600 people registered to vote were turned away because their names weren't on the lists. More and more stories coming in of a plethora of errors.

12.08am: A list of places where voters have been shut out -- Manchester Withington, Hackney South, Sheffield Hallam, Penistone.

12.10am: The BBC is reporting that voters in Sheffield Hallam staged a sit-in. This is not looking good for the Electoral Commission, which has issued a statement saying . . . not much. I've also heard there's a sit-in going on in Hackney South.

12.33am: Ballot papers ran out in Birmingham and Leeds. A little bit farcical . . . lots of people very angry.

12.37am: Jenny Watson of the Electoral Commission is on the BBC, saying that by law, polling stations must close at 10pm. The system relies on local knowledge, and the EC doesn't have the power to instruct individual returning officers on what to do. She talks of a need for clearer co-ordination, or clearer powers for the commission. She's calling for a "thorough review" -- these are all valid points, but it does seem that every time anything has gone wrong in the past few years, the default position has been to call for an inquiry!

1.18am: Andrew Sparrow reports that in Hackney, Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier (both Labour) have submitted an official complaint about people not being able to vote -- apparently 51 people could not vote in one area.

5am: The election watchdog is to investigate what went wrong with the polling stations in question.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain