Friday 22 April 2016

21,800 postal ballot papers scrapped...and other news - updated

Update 26th April;
The postal voter who contacted me (see earlier update) has been told that there is indeed another mistake, this time over the colours. She has been told to ignore the advice about colours and make sure that she votes with the regional ballot paper with the correct wording.
With 21,800 ballot papers affected this is a serious mess and they will need to be very carefully counted.
There are now 43,600 postal ballot papers floating around mid and west Wales, all shades of grey.
As a reminder, the Returning Officer, Mark James, is appointed under the Representation of the People act 1983 and is legally responsible for the "preparation of all ballot papers". He will also be entitled to fees in the region of £30,000.
I understand complaints have been made.

Update 25th April;
The instructions given by the Returning Officer was to bin the 'grey' postal ballot papers and use the newly issued 'tan' ballot papers when they arrived. Votes already cast on the old 'grey' papers will not be counted.
I've been contacted by a postal voter, a pensioner, who has said that the old ballot papers were in fact pale green, not grey, and the new papers are not tan, but grey.
Presumably therefore if they send back the new ballot paper which is not tan, but grey, the election office will think it's the old grey, but actually green, ballot paper and it will be null and void.

And given this total chaos, I wouldn't be surprised if the regional election was also declared null and void.
If I was a candidate I'd be fuming.

*  *  *  * .

As the Herald reports, the potential for electoral chaos is on the cards with over 20,000 postal ballot papers for the Regional Assembly election being scrapped, at unknown cost, after an error was discovered. The ballot papers cover three counties and the error, in the instructions of how to vote, was not detected until they'd been sent out. Ceredigion, Preseli Pembrokeshire, and Carmarthen West and South Pembs being the areas affected, Carms East and Dinefwr, Llanelli, are not.

The Electoral Commission declared that the error was misleading for voters and despite the Returning Officer Mark James, legally responsible for the smooth running of the regional vote, seeking advice from 'the leading QC in the country' the papers had to be reprinted.

The Returning Officer, who can receive a fee of up to £4,730 for each constituency, blamed the mess on a 'most unfortunate error by the printers' which is interesting as it could be assumed perhaps that the printers would print the template given to them, not be responsible for the actual content.

Anyway, the problem now is that many of those who received a postal vote ballot paper may have already voted. Their vote will not count and they will have to vote again when the new papers, and new prepaid envelopes, arrive. Many who vote by post are elderly or vulnerable people and this mess could cause confusion and, at the very least, a reluctance to trek out to the postbox to recast their vote.

As an aside, I recall that during the local elections in 2012 some sitting councillors, not a million miles from Caebrwyn were so kind and helpful they personally assisted the elderly folk with their postal votes and even offered to pop them in the post box for them...allegedly.

However, this is not the first hiccup in this year's election. At the end of March, due to a brief 'technical issue' with Carmarthenshire Council printers, some requests for postal votes disappeared into the ether and alerts had to be sent out for anyone who had requested an application during the timeframe to re-apply.

The Returning Officer, Mark James, is no stranger to controversy of course and it was only a couple of years ago that Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards called for 'ministerial intervention', questioning whether Mr James should preside over the European election whilst on gardening leave during the criminal investigation following the unlawful payments scandal.

Earlier, in 2012, there was controversy over an 'advance payment' of £20,000 to Mr James for the local elections, a payment made before the number of contested seats were known, and in the previous financial year.

I would imagine that the regional parties and candidates are not best pleased with this latest cock-up.

*  *  *  *

I notice that the cost of democracy has been tallied up for the municipal year. Back in February the council's budget costed in a reduction in travel expenses for councillors over the next couple of years, based on 'previous years' claims'. In fact they've gone up, from £46,027 in 2014/5 to £47,592 in 2015/6. It may be only £1500 but that's a fair few fills of the tank when petrol prices have actually gone down.

Also of interest is the total paid in councillor allowances, with very little evidence of civic belt tightening, the figure has gone from £1,267,556 in 2014/5, to £1,286,416 in 2015/6, an increase of £18,860...

*  *  *  *

After the recent flurry of secretive activity, it appears that Carmarthenshire Council's efforts to merge with the troubled Tai Cantref housing association has failed. With thanks to Jac o' the North's blog we learn that Cantref has instead plumped for Wales and West Housing based in Cardiff. 
Clearly Carmarthenshire Council was a basket case too far, even for Cantref.


Anonymous said...

The responsibilities of the returning officer re the “Preparations for absent voting processes and the production of stationery” are clearly set out here -

“4 Production of postal vote stationery
Carrying out checks of the printing process
You should have a process in place for proof -checking postal vote
4.6 stationery.
In particular, you should ensure that you have a member of your staff in attendance when the postal ballot packs are being printed to check that there are no errors and they are being printed to the required specification.
If you have out sourced the printing process, discussions to facilitate these checks and how any replacements would be produced should occur at the time the contract is negotiated and reflected in it”

Anonymous said...

and it goes on to say...

"To be able to achieve the outcome set out in
performance standard 1, you will need to ensure that robust processes are in place for ensuring that there are no errors on voter materials. You will also need to ensure that arrangements are in place for the management of contractors and suppliers so that the work is delivered as required by the specification.

To demonstrate that the outcome can be delivered you will need to set out the arrangements that are in place for the management of contractors and suppliers, as well as the processes you have in place for the proof-checking of voter materials."

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they can recover the costs from the dark lords estate....

Anonymous said...

Nice Cadno piece today in herald

Anonymous said...

Good to see you are advocating jobs are transferred to East Wales I guarantee you that Wales & West Housing will move the bulk of its admin to its Cardiff name . The welsh Language of Tai Cantrf will be weakened so if thats the case a poor result . Ask any tenant who they prefer to deal with Private Landlord , Hoising association or local council and you will find local authority is the best provider -

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 13:49
I'm not advocating anything. As for asking tenants, or staff, I would have thought that's exactly what Cantref should have done prior to any merger.
The final report from the Welsh Government investigation should also have been published, or at least made available to potential partners.

@Anon 11:37
I agree.

Lesley said...

It seems to me that the Returning Officer gets paid a princely sum in return for duties which are hardly onerous so as it is one of his responsibilities to ensure that the ballot papers and instructions are correctly printed , presumably Mr James will be footing the bill for the re-printing and the advice from Counsel considering that he failed to notice that mistakes had been made. The buck stops with him and if he hasn't got the time or ability to do the job properly, perhaps someone else should be given the task next time?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a public enquiry should be held. The police called in to investigate and solicitors to prosecute....

Anonymous said...

Most certainly it is high time for a Public Inquiry into this council, it's officers, and indeed the CEO as he is ultimately responsible, hence his enormous salary. It's been called for often enough and not without good reason.

Cneifiwr said...

Readers who have been affected by these blunders should complain to the Electoral Commission - details here:

People are saying that the second batch of police commissioner ballot papers are as clear as mud and presented in a very confusing way.

Following Bryn Parry Jones's untimely departure, Mark James is now the senior returning officer for the region and stands to earn a lot more for "organising" the Assembly and Police Commissioner elections than most readers will earn in a year. Not to mention the EU Referendum.

Lesley said...

I've already returned my postal vote: now I have a second lot of ballot papers and instructions. What happens to the original, incorrectly printed, postal votes which have already been returned? This is one major cock-up and there should definitely be an investigation. Cyneifiwr - thanks for the info about making a complaint to the electoral commission. I will certainly be doing so.

Lesley said...

I've just looked up the complaints procedure on the electoral commission website and apparently one has to complain to the local authority first.

Now I know for certain that I'm living in Alice's Wonderland, with the Mad Hatter in charge.

Anonymous said...

Oh FFS! How difficult can the pre-printing review be? Unless your nasty little Rumplestiltskin mind is churning with hatred and obsessing over how to further punish the flame-headed wild witch of Carms North and distracting you from your (massively over)paid duties. And Kerr-ching goes the public till again as a further fistful is snatched away from better uses and handed over to the the wise (and wealthy) wizard to whip up some arse-covering and guidance readily gobbled by the assembled turkeys.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify the printing was done by Pembrokeshire Council with an input from Ceredigion and their constituency returning officers have that responsibility

Anonymous said...

The fact remains that 21,800 postal votes are in danger of being made null and void because of the confusion caused by this cock-up and I should have thought that the ultimate responsibility lies with the Returning Officer for the mid and west wales constituency. Who is that person and how much is he/she getting paid for being in charge of the arrangements for the regional vote?

Anonymous said...

Response from Electoral Commission to a complaint email regarding colour/form confusion etc-

Thank you for your email to the Electoral Commission.

I have logged your comments regarding the colour of the re-issued ballot paper.

The Constituency Returning Officer in Pembrokeshire has a duty to administer the election in accordance with the law and has the power to take steps as they think appropriate to remedy any procedural errors that arise in connection with any function of the elections and that are not in accordance with the rules.

We have been in close contact with both the Regional Returning Officer and the Constituency Returning Officers since the error was identified. The advice that we gave was that the affected ballot papers should be reprinted and reissued in a different colour. We also advised that new voter instructions and a covering letter explaining the situation should be sent to affected voters.

The Returning Officer is advising that if there is any confusion as to which ballot papers and postal vote statements to use, that voters complete and return everything. There are procedures in place to retrieve the correct ballot papers if voters return everything.

You can be assured that we are closely monitoring the situation and will cover this issue in our report on the May polls that we will publish in the summer.

Best regards,