Plymouth sets up independently inquiry into voting problems

Owl says: chances of EDDC investigating its postal voting screw-up? Zero!

Plymouth City Council has set up an independent investigation over administrative issues in the lead-up to the general election earlier this month.

The investigation, which has been jointly commissioned with the Electoral Commission, was launched after problems emerged with the sending out of postal vote packs to people who had applied for them.

The Guardian reported that the loss of 1,500 postal voting packs was being blamed on a computer problem.

The council had already apologised after the final number of votes declared for the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport constituency was incorrect. In that instance some 6,587 votes for Efford and Lipson were not included in the final declaration for the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport constituency.

The investigation will be led by Dr Dave Smith, former chief executive of Sunderland City Council. Dr Smith sits on the Elections and Referendum Steering Group. He is also a non-executive board member for the Cabinet Office Electoral Registration Transformation Board and leads on elections and democracy for Solace.

His investigation will cover all issues relating to the election including:
The processes and controls around election planning.
The factors that led to postal voting packs not being received.
The sequence of events and consequences at each stage.
An assessment of the overall numbers of voters affected.
The approach, effectiveness and timeliness of remedial action taken to rectify the issue, once the council became aware of the scale of the problem.
The advice and guidance provided by the Electoral Commission regarding the council’s responsibilities, and their adopted method of resolving the issue.
The staffing and operation of the election call centre leading up to the day of the election, and on polling day itself.
The effectiveness of communications, and the way in which customer enquiries were dealt with.
Evidence of customer interactions including the outcomes and levels of satisfaction.
The general effectiveness of the elections and electoral registration function, including the capacity and capability of the team.
The robustness of systems and processes, with a particular focus on applications for, and distribution of postal votes.
Any other matters that might have influenced the elections process or response to the issues encountered.

Dr Smith will present the findings and recommendations from his investigation to a meeting of the full council “within the next few months”, Plymouth said.

The council has called on anyone who has further information or comments to provide this to the investigation through a portal that has been set up on its website. All information and comments submitted through the portal will go direct to Mr Smith.

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Council Leader Ian Bowyer said: “I am deeply concerned by the problems that have occurred with the administration of the General Election and want to be assured that we urgently get to the bottom of what happened and why. The Chief Executive and Acting Returning Officer announced at an early stage that a full and independent external investigation will be held, which is essential as we must ensure that these problems can never recur.

“I have asked that the investigation makes every effort to hear evidence from as many people in Plymouth as possible who have been affected by the problems. This way the investigators will be able to better understand the problems, how and why they happened and how many people were affected.”
Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough earlier this month called in the Association of Electoral Administrators to conduct an independent review of the Parliamentary election.

The council said this followed “adverse coverage in the media and also social media about the process of the election”.

Criticisms focused on: the issue of postal votes; individuals whose application to join the Electoral Register was awaiting determination; and voters who had been added to the Electoral Register after the issue of poll cards being able to vote in polling stations.”