Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Radio Cornwall story on 16 year old being sent a poll card

Radio Cornwall has raised concerns today about the potential for people who are not entitled to vote being sent poll cards for the forthcoming European Parliament elections. It seems that a mistake was made in the individual case raised - for which the council has apologised - but we know that this was an isolated incident.

Every year, the council sends out registration forms to every household in Cornwall. These request the details of every adult living in the house, as well as everyone aged 16 or 17 (with their date of birth) as these people will become eligible to vote during the lifetime of the register.

Sadly, some 78,000 households fail to send back the form each year and so the council spends about £24,000 sending reminders out. Even these don't get a full response and so we have to pay around £69,000 for around 30,000 personal visits to people's homes.

In the case highlighted by the radio, the household failed to send back both the original form and the reminder. It was only when our canvasser knocked on their door that we got a form filled in. Sadly, the information given was incorrect in that it did not include a date of birth for someone who is only 16. The council has to take this information at face value and so the 16 year old was included on the electoral register. I'm sure that this was an innocent mistake rather than an attempt to commit electoral fraud.

Some two months later, another form was received from the household which included a fourth person (aged 17) and also included the 16 year old's date of birth for the first time. The council added the 17 year old but failed to note the date of birth of the 16 year old. That was a mistake on the part of the council and we have apologised.

However, it would be wrong to think that this is any more than a one-off event. Most people do fill in the form correctly and the council has looked again at its procedures to make sure that it won't make the same mistake again.

There is also a back up check as the presiding officer at a polling station will refuse to issue a ballot paper to someone under the age of 18 even if they have (mistakenly) been sent a poll card.

But the electoral registration system is changing to make even this mistake much more unlikely in the future. The introduction of individual electoral registration means that each person will be responsible for their own form and each application to join the register will be checked by the DWP against their database of National Insurance numbers. So the date of birth of every person will be recorded and 16 or 17 year olds cannot be sent poll cards.

Five years ago, Cornwall Council made a series of mistakes in our elections service and were rightly criticised. Since then, staff have put a lot of effort into getting things right and we are now recognised as one of the highest performing elections teams in the country. In Cornwall, we have have confidence that our elections are safe and secure.

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