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UK General Election Voting Fiasco

Source: Reuters - Fri 7th May 2010

Britain's electoral watchdog launched an investigation on Friday after hundreds of voters were turned away from busy polling stations, putting the country's antiquated voting system in the spotlight.

Electronic voting has been piloted in Britain, but has not been rolled out due to cost and fraud concerns. As a result, voters still wait in line in schools, church halls and even pubs and hair salons to mark a cross on a paper ballot with a pencil.

A late rush of voters, boosted by the unpredictability of the election, left some stations up and down the country unable to handle queues of voters before the 10 p.m. closing time, sparking confrontations with officials.

About 200 people were turned away from a polling station in the northern city of Sheffield when polls closed because election officials were unable to handle the paperwork in time, and police were called to several polling stations in London.

"What we currently have is a 19th-century process for a 21st-century population," said Ovum analyst Mike Davis."A 24-hour society requires 24-hour voting to meet the aspirations of the electorate, who now have an expectation of 'always on and always available'."

The chair of the Electoral Commission, Jenny Watson, told Sky News it was "a matter of grave concern" that people who had wanted to vote were unable to do so.

"We have been making the case for some time that the system is at breaking point, and what you saw last night was in places it broke, and that is not good enough and we will get to the bottom of it," she said.


The chaos could leave some constituency results open to legal challenges within the next 21 days.

The leaders of the three main parties all expressed concern.

"Everyone who has met the rules must have the chance to vote," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, while the opposition Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg both said the problems must never happen again.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said the larger turnout - estimated to have been about 65 percent, up 4 points on the last election - should have been anticipated, given the public interest the campaign has generated.

"That's not good enough," he told ITV News. "What they should have done is not sealed the boxes, but sealed the doors."

One of the worst affected areas was Sheffield Hallam in northern England, represented in parliament by Clegg.

Postman Robin Dallman, 25, said he had arrived at 9:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the deadline, to wait in line at a polling station in a church. But he failed to reach the door in time.

"People want to vote so, when people aren't allowed to vote, obviously they aren't going to be very happy," he said.

The National Union of Students demanded an inquiry into reports that students had been segregated from other voters, and that some polling stations had run out of ballot papers.

In London, police said they were called to a protest at a polling station in Hackney when about 50 people who had been unable to vote refused to leave the building.

Polls were kept open for an extra 30 minutes in Lewisham, southeast London, to cope with the queues of voters.

In Newcastle, northeast England, about 450 people queuing outside two polling stations were taken inside and allowed to vote after the deadline passed, a city council spokesman said.

Reports are stilling coming in from expats around the world who were denied the right to vote, despite completing the application process before the given deadline.

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