Postal vote cock-up entirely EDDC’s fault – postal ballot papers “could have been run off on a home printer”

“Postal votes sent out to voters in East Devon without an official security mark were printed by East Devon District Council, it has been confirmed.

The Acting Returning Officer for the East Devon Constituency, Mark Williams, issued a statement earlier this week to reassure postal voters who have not yet returned their postal votes after the postal votes after packs that were issued on May 25 contained voting slips that did not have an official security mark visible on the front of the ballot paper.

It has now been confirmed that it was East Devon District Council who were responsible for printing the ballot papers.

Latcham Direct Limited, who are is a specialist digital print, direct mail production, print management, document management, and fulfilment operation, have been commissioned by EDDC for services that in their annual reports are for printing and for postage.

A spokesman for Latcham Direct said: “Latcham produced the postal vote statements and enclosed the matching BRE’s into outer envelopes keeping in strict sequential order, and returned back to East Devon.

“East Devon printed the ballot papers and hand enclosed them into the filled packs from Latcham Direct ready for distribution.”

It is believed that this means that it was East Devon District Council who were responsible for the mistake that has been put down to ‘human error’.

East Devon District Council were contacted for comment but a spokesman said that they did not wish to add anything further to the previous comments that they had issued.

A statement issued by Mr Williams had said: “It has come to my attention that the postal vote packs we issued on 25th May contained voting slips that did not have an official security mark visible on the front of the ballot paper. This has affected a total of 9,000 postal voters.

“I want to reassure those postal voters affected that if they have not yet returned their postal votes they should still do so. We have taken all the necessary steps to ensure the postal votes are valid and will be counted. I apologise for the error but want to reassure postal voters that they should still complete their postal voting statements and return their postal voting envelopes back to me for validating as part of the normal postal voting process.

“To be valid, a postal vote has to be accompanied by a valid postal voting statement containing the voters date of birth and signature. After these are checked, the envelope containing the postal voting slip is opened and the slip is put into a sealed ballot box where it is kept safe until the formal count. My postal vote opening teams will ensure that all validly completed postal votes are double checked so that they will go forward to the count along with all the other votes that will be cast on polling day itself.”

But calls have been made for Mr Williams to resign from his post after the ‘unforgiveable mistake’ and the chairman of the East Devon Alliance has said they are appalled that Mark Williams is even in his post to be able to commit this unforgivable mistake after the ‘disaster’ of the 2015 elections, in which Parliamentary, District and Town council elections were all held on the same day.

The Electoral Commission have been informed of the postal voting error.

But the ‘cock-up’ has left Paul Arnott, chairman of the East Devon Alliance, furious, and said that he would have more confidence in a village raffle than in Mr Williams running the forthcoming election.

Mr Arnott said: “The East Devon Alliance is appalled that Mark Williams is even in his post to be able to commit this unforgivable mistake. In 2015, after the debacle of the elections for town, district and Parliament, we wrote a measured report, in which our concerns included his prematurely calling results at his chaotic count for district elections with no reference to candidates or agents even when majorities were easily within the need for a recount.

“As a result we are not confident that two current serving councillors were duly elected. He had no control over who was at the count itself, and we know about the 2015 disaster with the postal vote. All our concerns in 2015 were mirrored by a report from the Elecotral Commission.

“As a result, I was successful this year in demanding that the County Solicitor’s office and the Electoral Commission observed the County election last month. Under this level of scrutiny the conduct of the 2017 county election was unrecognisable from the disgrace of 2015.

“Now we are witnessing the final tragedy for democracy in East Devon because Mr Williams remains in position to make what must be his final mistake.

“How is the electorate meant to trust that he forgot to check before sending out no fewer than 9,000 postal votes that they did not bear any proper markings? It’s his job to check them and to have a commissioning relationship with the printers.

“How did these ballot papers, which frankly any of us could have run off from a home printer, ever get to be created? This must be the last election he ever runs and we will be issuing a report on this and take it to the highest level. The dog has eaten his homework for the last time.

“Meanwhile the only honourable act for Mr Williams himself is to resign from all future electoral activities, including voter registration, his laxity in which was condemned by a committee in Parliament. I never thought I would live to be a 55-year-old citizen of one of the most beautiful parts of the world and be unable to assure my children that they are able to trust the electoral processes here anymore than in some underfunded and unfortunate part of the developing world.”

A spokesman for East Devon District Council said that the mistake was ‘simply the result of human error for which we apologise’.

They added: “A total of 9,000 postal votes were involved but as we have outlined in our statement the issue has been remedied. We want to reassure those postal voters affected that if they have not yet returned their postal votes they should still do so as we have taken all the necessary steps to ensure the postal votes are valid and will be counted.”

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said: “The Electoral Commission is aware of the issue surrounding postal ballot papers in East Devon which were issued without an official mark. We were contacted by the Acting Returning Officer and provided advice, and steps have been taken to ensure that these ballot papers will still be counted and nobody will be disenfranchised in the UK Parliamentary General Election.”

http://www.devonlive.com/east-devon-district-council-were-responsible-for-printing-faulty-ballot-papers/story-30374445-detail/story.html

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