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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Voting chaos hits polls
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

When the dust has finally settled over the May 2007 elections, the chaos of voting procedures across the country may overshadow the results.

A vote count
Counts have been suspended in some councils

In unprecedented scenes for a British election, tens of thousands of ballot papers were thrown out after apparently being incorrectly filled out, while and seven counts were suspended in Scotland after computerised counting machines failed.

In England, a number of councils were forced into manual recounts after experimental electronic counting systems also failed.

They were among a dozen pilots testing electronic voting by the internet or telephone, electronic counting and signing for ballot papers.

That followed earlier fears over the potential for fraud in postal ballots and warnings from some councils that the new counting systems being tested were not up to the job and they had been forced to put emergency manual backup plans in place.

Both the Electoral Commission and the Scotland Office have announced investigations into the procedures. The English pilots will be reviewed, as always planned, by the commission as well.

Legal challenges

With more information and details yet to come, in Scotland it has already been claimed that in some areas the number of rejected papers was greater than the majority won by the victorious candidates.

That has led to questions over whether legal challenges could follow.

Scanner and ballot paper
Thousands of ballot papers have been spoilt, officials said
The shambles seemed to be the result of the fact two separate elections - for local councils and the parliament - were held on the same day under new, and different systems, and with different ballot papers.

That appears to have caused confusion with many voters who made mistakes on their ballot papers, leading to them being rejected by counting officers. Even folding a ballot paper may have caused problems.

The upshot of all this is that experiments in the way people vote - championed by government ministers - have suffered another major setback.

Ministers have been arguing for more internet, or electronic voting and more automated counts and postal voting as ways of increasing voter participation in elections.

But there have been persistent worries over fraud and inadequate systems.

The fact that, in Scotland in particular, that thousands of people turned out to vote only to have their papers rejected will do little to encourage trust in the system or participation.

And, with voter turnout always an issue, that could have precisely the opposite effect to the one desired.


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