To consider the returning officer’s final report into the delivery of the May 2015 elections – attached.
Mr John Fox addressed the committee on his views concerning Wheatley Merry Bells polling station at the May elections.
His address covered the following points:
· The rights of tellers were not clear in the Electoral Commission guidance;
· The tellers did not wear name tags;
· The apron and wooden porchway on the front of the Merry Bells polling station had multiple tellers which was intimidating for some voters;
· The tellers were asking for detailed information from voters, sometimes in an aggressive manner.
David Buckle, Returning Officer, explained that neither the presiding officer nor the polling station inspector had reported any problems at the polling station. There was a police liaison officer on duty that day. Any reported issues would have been dealt with by the police, who are responsible for matters outside of the polling station. Officers agreed to inform the Electoral Commission of Mr Fox’s comments regarding their guidance for tellers and to attach his letter to the minutes of this meeting.
The returning officer presented his final report to the committee. The committee discussed the following issues:
· Paragraph 19 regarding the absent votes which were not sent abroad. The returning officer explained that although this was an unfortunate error, it was mitigated by offering proxy votes to those affected. An estimated 123 voters, at most, were affected across the three parliamentary constituencies.
· Paragraph 21 concerning the second issue of absent votes in Oxford City. This error was due to a data transfer issue. The returning officer referred to his recommendation that protocols for data transfer with both Oxford City and Cherwell should be put in place ahead of the next cross boundary election to ensure this error is not repeated.
· Paragraph 18 which details parish ballot papers for Watlington parish were erroneously sent to voters in North Hinksey and Wheatley. Officers clarified that this was only the second issue of postal votes which were sent out so only small numbers of electors were effected, about 70 in each instance. This issue was quickly identified and those affected were hand delivered a correct ballot paper within 24 hours of the error being discovered.
· Willowbrook polling station. Officers explained that as this was the only station which there were significant queues, it was not thought to be an issue with staffing levels. The combination of the parliamentary, district and parish elections meant issuing ballot papers took more time. In order to improve the situation polling station inspectors were sent out to manage queues with police assistance. Officers would review the provision of polling places prior to the next scheduled elections in May 2016.
· The use of counting sheets rather than grass skirts as a method for counting votes. The committee agreed that grass skirts offered a more transparent method of counting. Officers agreed to review the options for counting votes in multi-member wards in time for the district and parish elections in 2019.
The committee discussed the order and accuracy of the electoral registers. Officers clarified that work was currently being done with the elections software provider, Xpress, in order to improve how registers are run from the system.
The committee noted and supported the key action points and recommendations in the returning officer’s report and were satisfied these measures would alleviate issues going forward.