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Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Friday, 7 May 2010 10:36 UK
Election 2010: South Yorkshire

Outraged residents unable to vote

The Electoral Commission has said that people who were unable to vote in the General Election on Thursday 6 May were "badly let down" by the current voting system.

1200 people across the country were turned away when polling stations closed, including hundreds in Sheffield.

The Electoral Commission's interim report, published on 20th May, said the law should be changed so that anyone queuing when polls close could still vote.

Sheffield residents were outraged when they were turned away, and police officers were called to the polling station at St. John's Parish Centre near the Ranmoor Inn in the west of Sheffield on Thursday 6th May, where voters had been queuing for more than three hours.

Many in the queue were unable to vote before polls closed at 10pm and police officers had to break up sit-in protests as around 200 people got into the building.

Officers were also called to protests at polling stations in Woodseats and Bents Green Methodist Church in Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's constituency.

One Ranmoor resident told BBC Radio Sheffield: "It's now 10.45pm and there are still people in this building that have been here several times throughout the day to try and vote, and haven't. We've been disenfranchised."

Police had to calm down angry voters at polling stations
Police had to calm down angry voters at polling stations

Police arrived as returning officers tried to remove the ballot boxes through the obstructing crowd to be counted at Ponds Forge. People were threatened with arrest but the crowds eventually dispersed.

Many of those affected by the voting irregularities were students in the western suburb of Ranmoor, and within hours a Facebook group called Discrimination against students at St. Johns Ranmoor polling station attracted over 2000 members.

Kate Baldwin is the University of Sheffield student who started the group. She says the voters were divided into two lines:

"By about 8pm they had separated us specifically into lines of residents and students... which I find ironic considering we [students] live in Sheffield and are constituents here.

"There was no checking of polling cards or any other form of identification. Once people got into the polling station, there was no difference in the way they were treated, whether they had their polling card or not."

Sheffield University Students' Union released a statement on Friday 7th May 2010:

"The majority of students voting at the Ranmoor polling station yesterday are residents in University accommodation and therefore had been registered to vote since September. There is no reason why the Council should have been surprised by the number of registered electors at this polling station.

"This system clearly disadvantaged and thus discriminated against students, large numbers of whom were unable to cast a vote. The Union of Students would like to see an official apology, from the Council, to those students who were unable to express their democratic voice, and specifically for the decision to segregate the queues."

Paul Tobin is President of Sheffield University Students' Union: "This incident has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many young people taking part in a General Election for the first time and it is vital that the Council now act quickly to assure that such a situation never happens again."

Returning officer

John Mothersole is Sheffield city council's chief executive and the returning officer for Ranmoor:

"Clearly there was a lot of pressure up at Ranmoor last night and the local presiding officer may well have made a decision that he believed was in the best interests given the situation, which I will now review and consider. But I'll be very clear - I don't support separating people based on whether they're students or residents or any other differentiation."

John Mothersole said the council was "caught out" by high turnouts

In a later statement, John Mothersole admitted that they had got it wrong:

"I would like to apologise... We were faced with a difficult situation with the numbers of people, and a large amount of students turning up to vote without polling cards. This made the administration process of ensuring the correct person was given a ballot paper much longer. The only remedy, which we could not take, was to extend the voting times."

Rotherham Labour MP Denis MacShane has said on Twitter that Sheffield Council should take responsibility for the voting debacle: "Scrivens [sic] has to accept ultimate responsibility 4 voting fiasco and should step down." In response, Paul Scriven said that it is not right for himself or any other politician to get involved with election decisions on polling day.

Other places in the country affected by voting irregularities were Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle.

Report attacks vote night chaos
20 May 10 |  Politics
Clegg apology to queuing voters
07 May 10 |  Election 2010
Outraged residents unable to vote
07 May 10 |  South Yorkshire


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