Plymouth City Council has been accused of adding thousands of students to the electoral register in bulk without their permission, two years after electoral errors there prevented up to 200 people from voting in a general election.
In this year’s local election, Independent candidate Steve Ricketts lost to Labour’s Chaz Singh in Plymouth’s Drake ward by just 13 votes, and is now demanding that the election is rerun if his accusations are proven to be correct.
Mr Ricketts, who has previously served as a Conservative councillor, told LGC there had been a huge “spike” in the numbers on the electoral register in areas where university students tended to live.
He suspects swathes of students had been added to the register “in bulk” without their permission in the Drake ward and possibly the nearby Peverell ward too.
He said: “I don’t think there is any malice in it, I think it’s a mistake.
“The law is such that people must register themselves. My suspicion is that university departments have sent over a list of their student and the council have put them on the register. When I spoke to students, they either didn’t know they were registered or were confused as to how it happened.”
The Electoral Commission confirmed that it has received a query about student registration in Plymouth, and has asked Plymouth City Council to respond to this.
The council said in a statement that it has worked “very hard” to ensure that everyone in the city who is eligible to vote has been given the opportunity to do so.
“We are confident that our process for registering students is fully compliant with the law and that we have followed all guidance from the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education and the Electoral Commission, as well as best practice.
“The Electoral Commission has confirmed that this query has not prompted any formal investigation.”
After the issues with the 2017 election, Plymouth undertook an electoral services improvement programme to rebuild stakeholder confidence in the electoral process and went on to deliver a successful city election in May 2018, with complaints slashed from 89 in 2017 to one in 2018.
Writing for LGC last year chief executive Tracey Lee said that her experience of the 2017 election issues, which became “a perfect storm of errors and process failure” was “direct and personal”. “But our subsequent recovery helped me identify lessons that apply across the organization,” she added. “As a result, the council is better placed to face future problems.”