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.


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.

Show Hide image

France to bulldoze Calais Jungle days after child refugees arrive in the UK

The camp houses thousands. 

Refugees and migrants in Calais began queuing up for buses this morning as the French authorities plan to demolish the "Jungle" camp.

But activists fear that, unless France significantly speeds up its asylum process, the displaced people will simply move to other camps along the northern French coast.

Meanwhile, the first children of Calais brought to the UK under the Dubs Amendment arrived at the weekend.

The camp known as the Jungle, in a wasteland by the port of Calais, is actually the latest manifestation in a series of camps established since 1999, when a French reception centre became too crowded.

However, it has swelled as a result of the refugee crisis, and attempts by residents to sneak onto lorries entering the Channel Tunnel have become daily occurences. The French authorities bulldozed part of it earlier this year.

Ahead of the latest demolishment, which is expected to happen on Tuesday, Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said: “In February this year over 50 per cent of the camp was demolished and yet six months later the camp is bigger than it has ever been before. 

"This is clear evidence that demolitions do not act as a deterrent.  The refugees come because they have no choice."

Future refugees will go to other camps with even less facilities, she warned.

The camp houses thousands of residents, but because of the authorities' unwillingness to legitimise it, there is no official presence. Instead, the residents must rely on volunteer aid services and have little means to stop intruders entering. 

Although conditions in the camp can be dire, residents have created a high street with basic tent shops and restaurants catering to the needs of its displaced population. Many of those in the camp say they are there because they hope to be reunited with family in Britain, or they have given up on ever being processed by the French authorities. 

After the UK government was pressurised into passing the Dubs Amendment, which provides sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees, some children from the camp have arrived in the UK. The first group is reportedly mostly girls from Eritrea, who will be processed at a UK immigration centre.

One of the MPs crucial to ensuring the Dubs Amendment delivered, Stella Creasy, said many more still needed help. 

Children reunited with their families under the Dublin Convention arrived in the UK last week, although their arrival was overshadowed by a debate over age checks.  

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.