Voting shambles blamed on rush

This Is Wiltshire:

A LACK of time to plan computerised voting has been blamed for problems that Swindon residents faced on polling day.

Counting officers had to revert to old-fashioned pen and paper when wireless connections failed at Covingham and Lawn polling stations.

The first seat winner was announced at 2am - two hours later than hoped.

Alan Winchcombe, the deputy returning officer, said: "The biggest thing was we needed more time and planning to implement it.

"One contractor was amazed that we did in eight and a half weeks what would normally take more than two years. We were not given the go-ahead to start this until the end of January. We went from nothing to that in eight and a half weeks."

Mr Winchcombe said Swindon coped well with the pilot system under stressful time constraints.

"We declared our results - there were three councils where voting was abandoned. There was no duplicated voting going on - we have the correct result for this election."

He said a full review of lessons learned will begin next week where 22,000 voters will be asked how it went for them. An IT specialist from the Open Rights Group was independently monitoring how the electronic votes were processed on the night.

E-voting coordinator at Open Rights Group, Jason Kitcat, said: "We were aware of problems with regards to the conduct of the count.

"We have been very concerned by the numbers of areas in which problems have been reported."

South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove said the shambles of Thursday night has turned her against the new system.

"I've received many reports of people being in long queues and left before casting their votes. I've also heard from people who experienced the system crashing and decided to do it on paper. I don't want to see it happening again in Swindon. I don't think it is satisfactory. There is a lot to be done with training staff - it is much more complicated than a piece of paper and a pencil."

She is concerned about the confidentiality of votes being compromised.

"Some people could see what others were voting for on the screen. Some officers were looking over people's shoulders to make sure they were voting correctly, but I don't think it is acceptable."

The election saw the Conservatives keep their hold on Swindon Council. They now hold 43 seats, Labour has 13 councillors and the Liberal Democrats have three.

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