Northumberland voting row after some electors didn't receive poll cards

Conservatives in Morpeth are demanding an inquiry into how polling cards were not sent to some voters in the town for last week's European elections

Polling station
Polling station

Conservatives in Northumberland are demanding an inquiry into how polling cards for last week’s Euro elections were not sent to voters in a county town.

The Tories are angry that cards were not sent to around 400 people in the Kirkhill ward of Morpeth, and also at High Stanners in the town, ahead of last Thursday’s European elections.

They claim they were contacted by people who wrongly believed they could not vote without the cards.

The Tories have claimed the turnout in the ward was just 19% - although the council dispute this figure.

They also say the party has strong support in the area and claim the failure to send out cards could have been crucial given that Tory MEP Martin Callanan lost his seat by 2,500 votes.

MEP Martin Callanan
MEP Martin Callanan
 

Northumberland County Council blamed Royal Mail, while that organisation claimed it had delivered all polling cards given to it.

Dave Herne of Morpeth Conservatives, who was the county council candidate for the ward in 2013, said: “The reports that polling cards were not issued are very concerning.

“People in Kirkhill who always vote in elections will have been waiting for the cards wrongly, but not unreasonably assuming that a card is necessary to vote.

“The Conservative team heard from a number of people who thought they could not vote on the day and from the looks of it about 400 or so people may not have exercised their right as a result, perhaps more. We are very keen to understand how and why this happened.

“The Conservative party lost a seat in the European Elections by just 2,500 votes.

“Kirkhill has a history of voting Conservative and with increasing levels of support and the votes lost there would have made the result closer that much is certain.

“I will be writing to Northumberland County Council and taking advice from the Electoral Commission if necessary to help understand what has happened, and where else it happened in Northumberland.

“I would hate to think that the North East has been deprived of a fantastic MEP like Martin Callanan through errors by Northumberland County Council.”

County councillor for Morpeth North David Bawn added: “I am becoming increasingly alarmed regarding this issue, we know that areas of Morpeth did not receive polling cards prior to the European elections last week, and consequently turnout in those areas was much lower than we would expect.

“Normally Morpeth has a relatively high turnout in elections, but this time the turnout across Morpeth was much lower than the North East region average which is unprecedented, therefore it is clear that this error may have affected the result of what was a very close race in Northumberland.

“This is unacceptable, we need an urgent investigation to establish the extent and the cause of this problem to ensure that it does not happen again.”

A county council spokesman said: “We have been made aware that some electors in the Morpeth area, generally streets between Spelvit Bridge and the River Wansbeck, may not have received poll cards ahead of the European Elections on May 22. These cards were issued to all electors and this is a Royal Mail issue.

“However electors do not need a poll card to vote and as long and as they are registered and eligible they could go along to their polling station at Morpeth Storey Park Community Centre and vote as normal.

“Not all electors in this area were affected and no other polling districts had this issue.”

The council said the turnout at Morpeth Storey Park Community Centre was in fact around 22% in person, not including postal votes - “very similar to everywhere else for a European election.”

Royal Mail spokeswoman Jennifer Bird said: ”Royal Mail has delivered all the poll cards for the Morpeth area that it received from another mail operator working for the council. We take the delivery of polling cards very seriously.

“If further evidence can be provided, we would be happy to investigate the matter further.”

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