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No systemic issue with postal votes in East Suffolk Council election, probe finds

PUBLISHED: 13:21 20 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:21 20 May 2020

East Suffolk Council's scrutiny committee has investigated postal vote and count delay concerns from last May's local and European elections. Picture: ARCHANT

East Suffolk Council's scrutiny committee has investigated postal vote and count delay concerns from last May's local and European elections. Picture: ARCHANT

A probe into the first elections at England’s largest district council last year has found there was no systemic issue with postal votes, but did acknowledge there were delays at the count.

The local elections in May 2019 were the first for the new East Suffolk Council - the largest district authority in England. Picture: ARCHANTThe local elections in May 2019 were the first for the new East Suffolk Council - the largest district authority in England. Picture: ARCHANT

East Suffolk Council, formed last year from Suffolk Coastal and Waveney councils, held its first local elections in May last year and the European elections later that month.

Concerns were raised over some postal votes and delays at the count itself, prompting the authority’s scrutiny committee to commission a report into the elections.

The report, published ahead of a committee meeting next week, concluded that there was no systemic issue with postal votes, but data inputting at the count did cause delays in results being declared.

MORE: East Suffolk Council 2019 election results

According to the report, of the 68,026 postal votes issued just six had to be replaced as a result of an administrative error.

Other reasons for some voters not receiving postal votes includes delays in delivery by Royal Mail; some voters failing to update their address with the council electoral roll; and some people believing they had registered for a postal vote but had not completed the process.

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In his response as returning officer, the council’s chief executive Stephen Baker said: “The electoral services team makes every effort to ensure every voter is able to vote in every election in which they are entitled to vote.

“If a voter reports that they have not received their vote, then every effort is made to replace that vote.

“It is possible that, given the number of postal votes processed by the electoral services team, occasionally a request for a postal vote is missed. However, often the electoral services team are blamed when they are not at fault.”

An investigation was also held into the processing of data at the count itself which had to be carried out before a result for each of the 55 seats could be declared, which some candidates and election agents complained had taken too long.

Mr Baker said: “The delay in providing the results was apparent at the count. It must be remembered that it is the responsibility of the returning officer to provide an accurate result, and key to that is that each ballot paper count, and the total of all the numbers of votes cast for each candidate, is the same as the verified total of papers in the ballot box that was returned from the polling station. Therefore, the process could not be rushed.

“However, the speed of the data input process, and of then declaring the results, was acknowledged as being too slow by the electoral services team. This issue was noted on the night of the count and in future, more input screens and appropriately skilled staff will be provided to speed up this part of the process.

MORE: How much the parties spent in the East Suffolk Council elections

“It should also be noted that this election was the first for East Suffolk Council and there was a considerable sense of excitement and anticipation amongst those watching the results unfold with feelings running high. As a result, it was evident that many of the attendees at the count were especially eager to learn the results of this important election.”


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