Changes to be made in light of election failings
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A review in to how May’s elections were run has identified failings in the way East Devon’s returning officer handled issues with postal voting.
The report, published by the Electoral Commission last week, says that incorrect instructions sent out with postal ballots could have confused voters and left them unsure that their vote would be counted as intended.
It also found that the initial process put in place for opening returned postal ballots, as a result of the incorrect instructions, was ‘in contravention of both the law and the commission’s guidance’.
East Devon’s returning officer, Mark Williams, was referenced in the document alongside his counterparts in 24 other local authorities across the UK.
Responding to the report’s conclusions, Mr Williams said he fully accepted that an error – which saw postal ballot instructions incorrectly advise some voters to vote for just one candidate - should not have happened.
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But he added that only 14 ballots had needed to be re-issued as a result of the slip-up.
He said: “It was clear that postal voters used their common sense and followed the instructions on the ballot paper rather than the general guidance on the back of the postal voting statement.”
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Mr Williams added that East Devon council tax payers would not be affected by the mistake, as the cost was covered by government grants.
He said that overall, May 7, which saw voters head to the polls for parliamentary, district and town and parish elections, had been an ‘intense but successful experience’.
He said that his team would be ‘redoubling their efforts’ to ensure that mistakes made were not repeated in the future.
Mr Williams added: “I have a young team who did their very best to provide an excellent service to electors.
“I acknowledge that we fell short - as highlighted by the Electoral Commission - but when put in context, all 110,000 electors had the opportunity to cast their vote and the election results were robust and not challenged.”
Mr Williams said he would be working with the commission to implement ‘practical measures that will improve the voting process’.
He added: “It is important that the high levels of trust that voters place in us are sustained.”
Mr Williams will present a report on the issues arising from the elections to the district council’s scrutiny committee later this month.