#GE2010: People robbed of vote as turnout seems to be on the up


Even though the outcome is still to be announced, General Election 2010 promises to be one that will remain in the memories of many for a long time. 

Whether it’s the tales of voters being turned away from the polls or the uncertainty of the final outcome, #GE2010 as it’s been labelled by the social media masses has presented its fair share of surprises and controversies.

By far the biggest news story of tonight is the number of voters robbed of their ballots. Blamed on, amongst other things, the unexpected surge in voter turnout the Electoral Commission are falling over themselves to try and smooth the cracks and keep the peace offering a full investigation into what happened. 

The story broke in Nick Clegg’s constituency of Sheffield Hallam where hundreds of students and residents alike were turned away from St John’s Parish Church in Ranmoor without having had the chance to cast their vote. Reports suggest that students were sidelined and priority was given to local residents. Whether this is true or not many people are looking for a suitable scapegoat on which to pin the fiasco.

But is it really fair to criticise the Electoral Commission or the returning officers at the polling stations all over the country that reportedly turned away eager voters and closed doors? Shouldn’t these voters have arrived earlier to ensure their vote could be lodged? 

The next few days and weeks are sure to be full of finger pointing and accusations. Polling stations ran out of ballot papers meaning eligible voters could not cast their votes. The returning officers there should surely have a duty to ensure suitable provision is made for all those in the constituency have the chance to place their cross on a ballot. Surely the point of registering to vote means returning officers and councils can forsee a total possible number of voters, regardless of expected turnout levels? If a polling station runs out of ballots, that has got to be the result of poor forward planning. 

However the case that arose in Sheffield Hallam, Manchester and several other regions was too many people still queuing in the final minutes of voting time. Pinning the blame in this instance is less clear cut. Is it the fault of voters who didn’t arrive earlier to mark their ballots, or the ones who delayed the process by not turning up with their polling card? Perhaps blame should fall on the Electoral Commission for restricting polling time to a mere 15 hours – from 7am to 10pm – when we live in a 24 hour society. What about the returning officers? Is it their fault for not providing sufficient numbers of polling stations, booths and staff to deal with a rise in voter turnout?

The figures are still vague but it seems that voter turnout has finally bucked the trend of decline and started to rise. After years of tales of voter apathy and many a political big wig trying to suss out a way to encourage voters to visit the polls it seems that all is needed is a recession, some bad political and financial decisions and a disenchanted generation coming of age. 

As I write Gordon Brown has secured his own seat and increased his majority in his constituency, while his transport secretary, Sadiq Khann kept hold of Tooting which saw the largest rise in voter turnout so far tonight, up 10% from 2005. 

It seems that increased voter turnout is a double-edged sword. On the one side, improved voter turnout is providing an interesting election with still no clear outcome coming through. On the other, unprecedented levels of voters coming forward to have their say has caused chaos at the polls, showing many regions to be completely unprepared and a lack of foresight and planning.

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