The missing 6,000 voters: a personal perspective from an EDA blog commentator

Paul Freeman, a regular commenter on the EDA blog, has sent in this blog entry which represents his personal view after asking questions of the district council at last week’s full council meeting:

“Mr Chairman, Councillors

I would like to make a statement and ask some questions relating to democracy in East Devon which is on today’s agenda.

It has come to light in the past few weeks that the Electoral Registration Officer for East Devon has deregistered at least 6,400 people in East Devon and possibly as many as 7,000 citizens from the Electoral register. This is equivalent to 1 in 15 of all voters in East Devon, In other words, of all the councillors and officers in the room today, the entire top-table has been disenfranchised. Or of the visitors, the public here, these three gentlemen behind me have lost their vote. It is a matter of public record that the Electoral Registration Officer for East Devon has failed to meet the standard set by the Electoral Commission on doorstep canvassing for the past three years in a row. In addition, last year the Electoral Registration Officer reported to the Electoral Commission a perfect score, in doorstep canvassing, i.e. he reported that the number of households not canvassed was zero, yet when the Electoral Commission looked into this further they decided that his performance was still below standard in this area.

1. Can the council assure us that this lack of performance was not, even indirectly, the cause of these citizens losing their vote?

2. Secondly, can the council please tell us whether mis-reporting his performance is a disciplinary offense against the Electoral Registration Officer?

3. Can the council please confirm whether the telephone canvassers that have been promised to be recruited, have indeed been recruited, yet?

And finally:

4. Is the council aware that as part of his activities to implement Individual Electoral Registration, that our ERO has already mislaid a further 900 voters in Budleigh Salterton?”

Leaving aside the appropriateness of the Chairman handing these questions to the ERO himself to answer (CEO Mark Williams) when they included questions about his own performance and possible disciplinary action …

The statement made by Mark Williams, EDDC CEO and ERO, probably says more about his own regard (or lack of it) for the voters of East Devon than any number of assertions by members of the public such as myself:

“Well I will answer on behalf of the council.

I think first of all, Mr Freeman, I recommend that you double check your facts.

The second thing I’d say is that as members know from a report I took to the Cabinet Meeting, that we are transitioning from an Electoral Registration System that the government has said is unfit for purpose.

And the third thing I’d say to you is that in any major change process it is not where you start from that counts but where you end-up.”

(You can listen to the question and the ERO’s answers in the first 3 minutes of the recording of the meeting available on the councils web site at .

Disregarding that he didn’t actually answer ANY of the questions asked …

And leaving aside that he effectively denied the facts I stated (which have been discussed in depth on this blog) and which I can back up with citations to Electoral Commission documents and to documents from the ERO himself released in response to a Freedom of Information request…

And disregarding his misrepresentation of the old electoral system which was certainly fit for purpose for several decades, and is being changed only to ensure that voters do not lose their registration if the head of household refuses to add them to the form (a rare but regrettable occurrence)…

The key point is that I am sure that all of the 6,400 – 7,000 deregistered voters who were unable to vote in the European Elections will be heartened to know that the ERO believes that it doesn’t really matter that they missed this recent election because they will eventually be reregistered and able to vote in some future election – maybe in time for the May 2015 local council elections, or maybe some future election after that. Does Mark Williams think that elections are like busses – if you missed this one, never mind because there will be another one along in a minute or two?

In the light of this public statement, I again call upon the East Devon Electoral Registration Officer, Mark Williams, to resign his post of EDDC CEO (which includes his role as ERO) because his position is (even more) untenable.