Election Problems in the UK

The UK elections were very problematic in several polling locations.  There is a great video and story here about the problems.   The story notes that:

Thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote last night as polling stations were unable to cope with demand.

Election chiefs told The Times that the widespread failures to deal with high voter turnout may lead to re-runs in the next few weeks, which could be critical to the overall outcome.

The Electoral Commission said it would be conducting a “thorough review” to determine what went wrong.

An estimated 500 people were turned away in Nick Clegg’s constituency of Sheffield Hallam as a large number of students and other voters descended on the polling station at St John’s Church in the Ranmoor district of the city. Police had to remove about 100 people who refused to leave.

So there are a couple of interesting aspects to the story.  First, the UK election is a single vote election–there were not 30 items on the ballot as there would be in the US–so the time it should take to vote the paper ballot and put it in a ballot box should be relatively low.  The key questions here is how they staff and provision these precincts and the number of voters per precinct.   The answers can be found, partially, in the London Times article:

Other polling stations in Newcastle East and Sutton Coldfield stayed open after 10pm to cope with demand. Electoral Commission rules state that votes can only be counted if ballot papers have been issued by the 10pm deadline. In Liverpool some polling stations were reported to have run out of ballot papers.

Running out of ballots is purely a mismanagement problem.  All they need to do is to print as many ballots as their are potential voters for every precinct.  Also, note that, unlike in America, being at the end of the line when the poll closing time arrives gets you nothing.  You have to have been issued your ballot by the close of polls in the UK.  We also see below that the precinct sizes were just unmanageable:

Students said that part of the problem was that more than 5,000 students had been registered at a single polling station. Elizabeth Eele, 19, a physics and philosophy undergraduate at Sheffield University, said that students may have been unfairly treated because they were moved into a separate, longer queue. “[The presiding officer] said that people with children and older people should go first, but that means that students who queued for longer were not allowed to vote.”

5,000 voters in a single voting precinct?  The problem is that, if they all come at once (or clump in any way), especially toward the evening, then the precinct cannot manage the logistics of checking people in.  If you can check in 3 people a minute over a 16-hour election day (which would be a super-human feat–no food or drink or restroom breaks!) you could only check in 2,800 people.  If you split the precinct between two teams, it becomes barely possible but still super-human.

Then we get to the staffing problem.  It would seem that some of the precincts were quite understaffed.

Robin Dallman, 25, a postman from Eccleshall, in the Sheffield Hallam constituency, said: “People were angry that there were only three people in the polling station when there should have been six or seven. It was a bit of a nightmare.”

Now we get to the really interesting part of the story that you may have missed above.

Election chiefs told The Times that the widespread failures to deal with high voter turnout may lead to re-runs in the next few weeks, which could be critical to the overall outcome.

Yes.  Reruns.  Think about that for a second.  The Brits realize that they screwed up and they are going to re-run the vote in certain constituencies.  The election officials are saying, “We botched it.  Let’s do it right.”  Interesting thought!