'Not ideal' issues prompt promise over elections

PUBLISHED: 15:02 14 August 2015 | UPDATED: 15:02 14 August 2015

East Devon District Council Chief Executive Mark Williams.

East Devon District Council Chief Executive Mark Williams.

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The officer in charge of running May's elections has 'guaranteed' that problems which blighted the process this year will not happen again.

The officer in charge of running May’s elections has ‘guaranteed’ that problems which blighted the process this year will not happen again.

Speaking at a meeting of East Devon District Council (EDDC) scrutiny committee on Thursday, July 30, chief executive Mark Williams acknowledged some of the issues had ‘not been ideal’, but defended his team’s handling of a ‘particularly complex set of elections’.

This follows a report published by the Electoral Commission which identified failings in the way postal voting was dealt with and how incorrect instructions could have confused voters.

Councillor Cathy Gardner also raised the question of election budgets and asked Mr Williams if the full amount was used in light of the problems faced by small teams dealing with large numbers of ballot papers.

Mr Williams said: “In terms of the staff budget I had, it was fully utilised. It was not ideal and I have acknowledged that.

“It was a particularly complex set of elections to run. In terms of timing and experience of the team, sometimes you just cannot get it right.”

Some of the issues highlighted in the wake of the elections included a delay in publicising the results, as well as a proof reading error which issued incorrect instructions to some postal voters.

Mr Williams explained he had a relatively inexperienced team due to two members of staff retiring ahead of the elections.

He also blamed the online registration process which enabled voters to duplicate their details, causing his staff a lot of unnecessary work, and said an online status check for voters has been recommended for future elections.

Mr Williams addressed confusion with voters turning up at the wrong polling stations by saying the ideal solution would be to give officers access to electronic data.

Cllr Marianne Rixson asked: “What processes will be put in place to ensure problems will not occur?”

Mr Williams replied: “I can guarantee you that it will not happen again.

“It was a real learning lesson for us in using external printers. We did go to external printers because of the complexities of the elections.”

The committee accepted the report from the chief executive and asked for an additional breakdown of costings for the general and local elections.

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