The London mayoral election started with an absolute shambles in one borough as voters were turned away from polling stations given incomplete electoral lists. Hundreds of residents in Barnet said they were told they could not vote without their polling card, while some carrying the document said they were also refused.
Arjun Mittra, a Labour councillor for East Finchley ward, said the logistical nightmare affected every one of the borough’s 155 polling stations. Out of the seven people who came to my polling station in the first 10 minutes, only one was able to vote.
She had come at 7am to vote because she was going away for the day, she said she was disenfranchised. It’s a disgrace. For the first half an hour after voting started the majority of voters were turned away, Mr Mittra said, but the rules were later relaxed to allow people carrying polling cards, passports or driving licences as council staff scrambled to print the correct registers.
An estimated 250,000 people were going to the polls in Barnet to vote for the London Mayor, London Assembly members and council by-election in one ward.
Residents were voicing their anger about the “absolute shambles” on Twitter, with many saying they had registered but were unable to vote.
Some said they were directed to different stations, where voters reported long queues and confusion among staff.
Elections live: ‘Shambles’ in Barnet as polls open across UK
“If you live in Barnet you now have an excuse to be even later for work because of broken democracy,” one critic wrote.
Christine Ozolins, said she and other residents refused to leave their polling station until they were allowed to vote after being initially turned away because they were not listed.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, head of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, was unable to vote after he and his wife were found not to be on the list.
His office said the “disappointed” couple had attended the polling station on their way to the airport, before flying to Amsterdam to spend the weekend with Holland’s Jewish community.
Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith visits Sidcup High Steet during his campaign tour on March 3, 2016 in Sidcup, England. (Ben Pruchnie / Staff)
The fiasco could have an impact on Conservative hopes in the election, with Barnet electing a Tory London Assembly member at the 2012 election and expected to turn out largely in support of Zac Goldsmith.
Mike Freer, the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, advised people to take their polling cards to vote.
“They appear to have a problem identifying voters,” he wrote on Twitter.
The documents, which contain directions to polling stations and other information, are not officially required to vote.
ID is also unnecessary under normal circumstances as staff are meant to cross-check voters’ names and addresses on their electoral lists.
A spokesperson for Barnet Council told The Independent the issues had been resolved by 10.40am.
“All the updated electoral registers are now in place and people can vote as normal,” he said.
An example of a London polling card, which states that the document is not needed to vote
“We are advising people who were unable to vote this morning to return again before the polling stations close if at all possible. We apologise for the problems we have experienced.”
Anyone unable to return to polling stations was able to apply for an emergency proxy vote by completing an online application by 5pm today.
Some residents blamed the outsourcing firm Capita for the issues, but a spokesperson for the company said it was not responsible for voter lists, although it sends out postal and proxy vote forms and runs a telephone helpline.
Barnet Council said it was responsible for the “electoral process” including voter registration, electoral registration lists and polling stations.
A spokesperson confirmed that all of its 155 polling stations had been affected by the blunder but was unable to say how many of the borough’s 236,196 registered voters had been turned away.
Its Liberal Democrat group was calling for a public inquiry into the voting problems, calling them “an affront to democracy”.
The Electoral Commission said it received reports of the issue shortly after 7am and believed there was a borough-wide problem causing some names to be missed off electoral lists.
A spokesperson said: “Some polling stations did not have complete registered for people who are eligible to vote. The complete registers were reprinted, checked, and delivered to each polling station.”
Around 16 million people are eligible to vote in council elections across England today, which also sees voting for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, police and crime commissioners and city mayors.