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'Simple human error' blamed for Barnet election fiasco

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“Simple human error” at Barnet LBC led to hundreds of people not being able to vote in May’s local elections, the Electoral Commission has found.

A report said a council officer preparing the electoral register the day before distribution to the borough’s 151 polling stations selected printing options that excluded standard voters, leaving only newly-added, postal and proxy voters, along with those placed in other “special” categories.

The commission said the error was compounded by inadequate checking processes within the electoral services office, combined with insufficient space for presiding officers to check the content of ballot boxes before taking them away.

The report said one presiding officer did check his register and raised concerns on the evening before polling day, but this was not acted upon until immediately before polling stations opened the next morning.

The problem was immediately identified when the polling stations opened and new registers were printed and dispatched, with all polling stations receiving full copies by 10.30am.

Barnet chief executive and returning officer Andrew Travers resigned days after polling day.

An independent report commissioned by the council concluded that up to 600 people were unable to cast their vote due to the mistake, but said it was not known how many manged to return later in the day.

The electoral commission report said voters in Barnet were “not well served on polling day” and confidence in the voting process was “severely damaged”.

It added: “Simple human error will always be a risk, but processes need to be in place to ensure that all of the necessary checks are made to ensure that voters are able to cast their vote easily on polling day.”

The Electoral Commission also reiterated its concern over the use of an electronic counting system for the election for the Mayor of London and London Assembly.

It said there was a lack of communication at stages of the count which meant the process was not clear and transparent for candidates, agents and observers.

Delays in the count due to a technical issue were also found to have not been communicated effectively.

The commission called for a review of the use of electronic counting and recommended that an experienced official should be available to advise the Greater London returning officer throughout the count process.

It also said planning should begin immediately for elections in 2020, when the votes for mayor of London and the London Assembly taking place on the same day as a general election.

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