Saturday, 05 December 2020

Elections ran well in spite of complexity and council HQ fire

THIS year’s elections were a success despite being the most complex ever in South Oxfordshire,

THIS year’s elections were a success despite being the most complex ever in South Oxfordshire, according to the man responsible for them.

Returning officer David Buckle was in charge of the parliamentary, district and parish council elections on May 7, the first time all three have taken place simultaneously. In total, there were 88 elections.

Mr Buckle, who was criticised after the local elections in 2011 were dogged by administrative problems, said the operation was a success.

He said: “Overall, considering the scale of the elections and the challenges that the election team faced in the run-up to their delivery, everything passed off very smoothly.

“There were a couple of unfortunate issues relating to the delivery of postal votes, and the team worked hard to rectify them with good  success.

“Notable successes were the performance of the print company, the lack of any issues with ballot papers, the handling of enquiries on election day, the count venue and the management of the overnight count.”

Mr Buckle and his team faced an extra challenge this year following a fire which tore through the council’s headquarters in Crowmarsh Gifford in January.

It destroyed paper records and put key computer systems out of commission for two weeks at a critical time.

The majority of postal ballot papers for the South Oxfordshire District Council and parish council elections were sent out on time, two weeks before polling day.

But the ballots for four wards, including 450 for Henley South and 200 for Watlington, were delayed in being delivered after a courier lorry broke down. A small number of postal votes to overseas voters and residents of Oxford were not dispatched and in most cases they were successfully  re-issued.

Mr Buckle, who is also chief executive of South Oxfordshire District Council, said he did not underestimate the frustration this caused to individual voters.

“Although the number we failed to issue was small, for those individuals it is very annoying and time-consuming to resolve and I apologise unreservedly to them,” he said.

“Some will recall that in 2011 I had to deal with a major failure by the print company. It is therefore heartening to be able to report that Print Image, who were not the printers in 2011, did an overall very good job, met most deadlines and made just one mistake in the issuing of postal votes.

“It also delivered all ballot papers for polling day in good time, which enabled the preparation of ballot boxes to go smoothly.”

He said the only issue was an error by the council’s printer in the second mail-out of district/parish ballot papers whereby about 140 ballot papers for Watlington parish were sent to voters in North Hinksey and Wheatley.

The error was quickly identified and rectified by hand delivery of replacement packs.

He said the counts were “uneventful” but that the three-member wards for the district council proved to be the most complex, especially Henley where there was a large number of candidates.

Mr Buckle’s interim report on the elections is available at elections

It will be finalised later in the year when feedback from a consultation with staff, agents, candidates and the public is available and the council’s election accounts have been finalised.

• In 2011 problems with postal votes meant the count at Thame leisure centre took 16 hours and staff had to work until after midnight.

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