Paul Farrelly
Image caption Paul Farrelly won the seat in June by 30 votes

Two council officials have been suspended after almost 1,500 people were unable to vote in June’s general election in a constituency that saw the successful MP win by just 30 votes.

Newcastle Borough Council chief executive John Sellgren and Elizabeth Dodd, head of audit and elections, have been criticised for a number of issues.

Voters were missed off registration and two voted who were not eligible to.

The leader of the Staffordshire council has apologised for the shortcomings.

Labour’s Paul Farrelly got 21,124 votes in the election on 8 June to win the Newcastle-under-Lyme seat, narrowly holding off Conservative Owen Meredith who polled 21,094.

Mr Farrelly has described the issues on polling day as a “shambles” which left some people, including students, unable to vote.

But in its independent investigation into events leading up to and around the election, the Association of Electoral Administrators said the outcome could not be challenged.

Image copyright The Sentinel
Image caption Chief executive John Sellgren was the acting returning officer at the time of the 2017 general election

Conceding it was “impossible not to question the result” for the winning candidate which could have increased or gone down, the official deadline to challenge results – 21 days – had passed.

Council leader Elizabeth Shenton, said: “I sincerely apologise on behalf of the council for that situation but we can’t turn the clock back and right any wrong that occurred at that time.”

‘Inadequate performance’

A “complex picture of administrative mistakes around registration and postal voting processes” meant first-time voters, including students and postal voters – including people aged in their 80s using the system for the first time – were unable to vote.

There was an “inadequate performance by inexperienced and under-resourced elections office staff”, the report found.

Tom Snape, chairman of Keele Students’ Union, said he hoped the students turned away were now more determined to vote next time.

“There was a huge amount of communication coming through the students’ union from students who had registered to vote – due to a campaign that we were running to get students to register – and had simply just been unable to at all. It was unprecedented.”

Image caption The investigation into events around the election was announced days after the results were announced

Personnel changes in office staff before the election also contributed to problems. Mr Sellgren was also acting returning officer for the election.

Ultimately, 500 postal voters were disenfranchised, nearly 1,000 potential electors were not included on the voting register and two were able to vote who were not to.

The report makes 16 recommendations to the council as well as some to the Electoral Commission and government over wider election issues.

The full council will discuss the findings next week.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The council has apologised for the problems

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