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.

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How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison respectively act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.