Households throughout Waddon have received letters from a firm of solicitors, appealling for information which could be used for evidence to force a re-run of the May 6 council election in their ward.
If the appeal to the election court is ultimately successful, it would mean a third election in the Croydon South ward within 18 months.
The letters, from Waterloo-based solicitors Steel & Shamash, have been issued on behalf of local resident and prospective Labour council candidate David Christison, who “has been granted legal aid to pursue an election petition in the public interest of the voters of Waddon”.
There were widespread complaints last month throughout the country, when the national general election was being staged together with local elections. As the polls closed at 10pm, there were lengthy queues at polling stations, with many voters denied the opportunity to cast their vote.
It is understood that Christison’s official election petition to complain about mismanagement of the poll, brought against Croydon Council, is the only one to have been filed so far.
Christison’s solicitors’ letter states that their client “believes it is his civic duty to challenge the outcome of the election result on the following grounds:
“1, that the organisation of the voting was chaotic;
“2, that there were insufficient staff at polling stations;
“3, that this disorganisation and lack of proper resourcing and staff led to long queues forming at the relevant polling stations throughout the evening, causing major delays and hardship to numerous voters, some of whom were elderly or infirm; and
“4, that these major delays resulted in possibly hundreds of people being denied their right to vote, including people being turned away or who left in frustration before polls closed.”
The solicitors’ letter includes a form for Waddon residents to complete with details of their voting experience on May 6 “as a matter of urgency”.
The letter finishes, “It is important that the shambolic organisation of the election is never repeated”.
No mention is made in the letter of the apparent anomaly in the presentation of the council election voting forms in Waddon, where Labour candidates did not have their party logo on the ballot form, a device intended to allow voters to identify where to place their vote.
Croydon council is delicately balanced after the 2010 election, with the Conservatives having 37 councillors and Labour 33. Any change in the Waddon result, where three Tory councillors were returned – Tony Harris, Clare Hilley and Simon Hoard – would leave the Town Hall needing the Duckworth-Lewis method to resolve many council issues.
Waddon is renowned as one of the most marginal wards in the borough.
At the Waddon election, where there was a 60 per cent turn-out, the three Tories polled 2,656 (Harris), 2,627 (Hilley) and 2,423 (Hoar) votes respectively. The three Labour candidates were within a few hundred votes: Hamida Ali (2,078), Joy Prince (2,047) and Christison (1,927). The next best tally of votes went to the LibDem, Geoffrey Gauge, who polled 1,332.
An internal council inquiry has estimated about 80 people were unable to vote because of the queues outside polling stations in Barrow Road, Waddon and at Valley Park in the Broad Green ward.
Jon Rouse, the chief returning officer, will have to appear before a High Court judge, probably next month, to answer the legal challenge in a preliminary hearing.
The judge will then decide whether to hold a full hearing into the matter which would occur in the autumn.
In an interview in the Croydon Guardian, Christison rejected the outcome of the council’s own inquiry, saying, “Being denied the right to vote, a right people have fought and died for, is a scandal. Whether it was 80 people as the Council claim their ‘initial’ investigation has found, or 800, then it is an outrage.
“However, if, as I suspect, it is many more than the Council claim, then it is a challenge to democracy itself and is quite simply unacceptable.”
Croydon council has suggested that “some individuals’ descriptions of events on May 6 are becoming increasingly exaggerated.
“Of course, we regret that a small number of people were unable to vote. It will be a matter for the court to decide whether that made a difference.”