Friday, 11 September 2009

Elections Review Panel

I've just been appointed as the Vice Chair of the new Elections Review Panel, which had its first meeting this morning.

The panel is considering two key issues - the first is the finalisation of the boundaries for council wards and the second is to consider what went wrong with the conduct of the elections in June.

Some may say that the boundaries should have been finalised before the election - and I would agree! But the short notice of the June poll meant that they had to be conducted on draft recommendations and so there are still some matters to follow up. Given the way that the Boundary Commission works, nobody is quite sure why they are only consulting on four areas. Does this mean that they have dismissed any ideas for the rest of the county or is it that they have accepted them without any further need to discuss?

In Launceston, the Lanstephan Estate is split between the ward I represent and Launceston North, represented by Adam Paynter. This makes little sense and appears to have been done simply to make the numbers add up. Whilst equal ward size is important, local conditions should take precedence, particularly when the numbers affected are comparatively small.

The four areas under discussion were Redruth and Camborne - where there are two quite different schemes and opinion seems equally split; the Clay area and Helston where the concerns are about splitting parishes and Bude - where the question is whether or not to have a multi-member ward.

Overall the discussion tried to focus on principle rather than detail of local circumstances - which is a relief as I know little about the West of the County!

Then it was on to the discussion about making sure that mistakes as happened in June cannot happen again.

Whilst many officers performed heroics in trying to make sure that everybody got their vote, the elections cannot be said to have been anything other than a failure. We heard that more than 1500 postal voters did not get their ballot papers properly and the council was only able to help around 350 of these. There were polling stations that got the wrong ballot papers and many postal voters got a ballot paper that did not list all the candidates.

I am full of praise for the attitude that the council has now taken - they accept that mistakes were made and have held an internal review. Now they want to get an outside expert to ensure they have missed nothing and also ask him to help structure the new combined elections department. I think that this is the right approach and the person mentioned would be ideal. Of course, this will cost. But the abject failure in June shows the need to focus on this area and to get it right. If a council cannot even hold elections properly then it loses the credibility to govern.

I was disappointed that some Conservatives argued that there should be no money spent and no external expert. If the officers feel that they need outside help then we must give it to them. In the end, the arguments of myself, Jeremy and MK's Dick Cole won the day as the committee was unanimous in agreeing to have an external review.

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