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.