Your Member of Parliament for Harrow East

Andrew Percy MP

House of Lords Reform Bill: New Clause 4 — Voting procedure

Bob supported Clause 4 of the Bill and recognised that if an individual is in a queue to vote before the closing time of 10pm their vote should still count. This matter has been raised on a number of occasions and was again relevant in light of the 2010 General Election. Problems again arise when two elections are held on the same day, for example the 2004 London Mayoral Election and the European Election. Long queues often form and there can be confusion at polling stations.

When people are keen to go to the polling station to express their views by voting, it is vital for them to be able to get there and to queue for however long it takes for the ballot papers to be issued, and for however long it takes those ahead of them in the queue who have also sought to be there validly before the 10 pm watershed to register their own votes. It cannot be right that elections could be won or lost on the basis of a presiding officer’s judgment as to what the time is. That is clearly not what Parliament wants, nor what the people want. What we want is absolute clarity, so that there is the minimum wriggle room for a presiding officer in the interpretation of the rules and the maximum capability for people to register their votes validly in the way that they wish.

It is often not appreciated that we have huge numbers of differentials in elections, in that different people are entitled to vote in different elections. In the 2010 elections in Harrow East 10% of the voting population were from eastern Europe and were not eligible to vote in the general election but were eligible to vote in the local elections. That caused substantial confusion at certain polling stations, particularly later in the day. People were arguing about whether they should have a ballot paper. That can add to delays in issuing ballot papers to others, so people who have left sufficient time to cast their votes can find that they are not issued with ballot papers. That is fundamentally wrong. Bob called for a strong steer in law to returning officers about what they should do in such circumstances, and there should be the minimum of discretion for interpretation.

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