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RECOUNT OF VOTES ORDERED IN COUNTY ELECTION CHALLENGE

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A top judge today opened the way for a high court recount of votes cast in a knife-edge Cornwall CC election. ...
A top judge today opened the way for a high court recount of votes cast in a knife-edge Cornwall CC election.

Paul Thomas Holmes, described on ballot papers as 'Liberal present councillor', won a seat on the council by a single vote after the poll for the Illogan North electoral division in Redruth on June 7.

He was declared to have received 964 votes but the Liberal Democrat candidate, Terence Alan Rowe, who the returning officer said had come in second with 963 votes, is now challenging the result.

As the returning officer has already formally declared Mr Holmes the winner, the result can only be challenged in the high court under the terms of the Representation of the People Act.

And today, after a petition was presented to the court by Mr Rowe, Mr Justice David Steele directed that a senior court official should carry out a full 'scrutiny' and recount of the ballot papers.

A date for the recount, which is likely to take place in private before a master of the queen's bench division, has yet to be set.

In his petition, Mr Rowe says the ballot papers were counted three times on the day of the election before Mr Holmes was finally declared the winner at five in the morning.

The first count resulted in a single-vote win for Mr Holmes but a check showed that two bundles of ballot papers recording votes for Mr Holmes contained 18 instead of 20 ballot papers.

A second count put Mr Rowe ahead by one vote.

At this point, Mr Holmes asked for two ballot papers which had earlier been rejected to be counted as votes for him.

The two ballot papers each had large crosses which went almost from corner to corner and whose intersection was in that part of the ballot paper containing Mr Holmes' name.

After some discussion, the returning officer allowed them to be counted as votes for Mr Holmes and he was declared duly elected by a single-vote majority after a third count.

In his challenge to the election result, Mr Rowe also points to an 'apparent disparity' between the number of ballot papers originally verified and the number actually counted.

Procedures under the 1983 Representation of the People Act are notoriously complex and even the high court recount may not finally resolve the debate over the election result.

The issues of disparity of ballot paper numbers and whether the two disputed votes were or were not valid may, in the end, have to be considered by a panel of high court judges.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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