two days to go – what can go wrong at a polling station?

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As the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Agent one of my responsibilities is to check the polling stations on election day: to ensure that nothing happens to deter people from voting and the party tellers who stand outside are not behaving in an inappropriate manner.   On 7th May it is my job to make immediate representation to the electoral Returning Officer in the event of any problems.

This may appear to be a demanding task but I had not seen it as such. The election rules are clear and observed by all parties; the local Council’s team has been impressively efficient to date. Moreover most Norfolk electors are docile in their behaviour: if you find yourself on a train with a group of Norwich City football supporters on an away trip your biggest problem is likely to be fending off their repeated offers of a sandwich. However, since this with the first time that I had undertaken the role, I asked, at a meeting of our Campaign Committee, whether any problems had been experienced in previous elections. It transpired that one had arisen in the 2013 County Council elections in the sedate Georgian town of Holt.

The polling station in Holt is the town’s Community Hall; this is a widely used resource managed by a rather proprietorial local committee.   On polling day 2013 they made a room available to a group who were demonstrating and testing hearing aids to interested local clients. This demonstration took place in an annex close to the larger room where ballots could be cast; the entrance was common to both.

As the electors entered they gave their polling numbers to the party tellers and this led to complaints from the hall management: hearing tests were disrupted by the noise and it was impossible to assess results at lower decibels. The hall management blamed the tellers who rightly pointed out that some noise was inevitable and a good proportion came from the voters chatting loudly to each other.   A compromise was reached which involved the tellers standing further away from the door – mercifully the weather was fine. Unfortunately this compromise was disrupted in the early afternoon when members of the local jigsaw club arrived to return and exchange puzzles; they needed to be informed, with the tellers the first point of contact, that the location of their room had been changed. Some of them were hard of hearing and needed repeated, patient explanations leading to further complaints about noise from the hall committee.

Holt has an elderly population and closes down early so the problem disappeared by mid-afternoon. On May 7th 2015 I plan to arrive in Holt late in the day.   I have formally appointed the local Labour council candidate as a sub-agent for the polling station in the hope that he will deal with any similar issue in the meantime. . There are 123 polling stations in North Norfolk which offer a perfect excuse to spend time elsewhere.

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