Council publishes ‘unofficial’ election results with errors

The Croydon Council count on election night 2014

The Croydon election count in May 2014

VOTE 2014: Five days after the local elections, and Croydon Council is still showing “unofficial” and inaccurate election results on its official website.

It is not clear when the finalised, and corrected, election results will be posted on the council’s own website. Council officials were saying today that some online services were not available today, “due to a major system migration”. Migration seems to get the blame for all sorts of short-comings these days.

The inaccuracies are not thought to affect the overall outcome of the election, which saw Labour win 40 of Croydon’s Town Hall seats to seize control from the Conservatives, who won 30 seats.

But the errors are nonetheless serious, understating some candidates’ votes by many hundreds. The mistakes appear mainly in transcription and publishing, rather than the count, yet still ought to represent a massive embarrassment over such an important democratic function.

The conduct of Croydon’s election count came in from widespread criticism on Thursday night, for the choice of the out-of-the-way venue and a lack of tellers – Inside Croydon reported that around 110 were on duty, around two-thirds of the number estimated to be necessary to handle a 24-ward count – which contributed to the delay in declaring results. Expected by 3am on Friday, none were announced until after 6am.

Paul Smith, the former senior Labour councillor, summed it up: “Most returning officers strive for the fastest declaration. Croydon seem to be going for slowest.”

A former Town Hall insider told Inside Croydon: “As I see it, the whole thing is a cock-up: the choice of Trinity School rather than Fairfield for the count; the shortage of tellers, which made the count longer than necessary; and now the failure to have all the results accurately posted on the council website by 9am on Friday morning.”

Croydon interim CEO Nathan Elvery: counting on around £20,000 bonus for "organising" our local elections

Croydon interim CEO Nathan Elvery: counting on around £20,000 bonus for “organising” our local elections

The responsibility for organising the election and the count falls to the council’s interim chief executive, Nathan Elvery, who as returning officer can expect to paid an election bonus of around £20,000 on top of his already generous six-figure council wage packet. “There seems to be a generally sloppy attitude among senior management in Croydon, which Tony Newman needs to crack down on as a matter of urgency,” said our source.

The process was complicated slightly by the need to spend some time first checking the votes in the European elections staged on the same day. But in past years, local results have been declared by 3am even when there have been parliamentary elections on the same day.

According to a senior council official, the results, posted here, were to appear in “real time” in the early hours of Friday morning. But as the errors have emerged, Town Hall sources have claimed that the results published on the council’s website are only “unofficial” and “provisional”. Shame that nothing to that effect is stated on the official council website that still shows the inaccurate information.

Our council, in its cost-cutting wisdom, had outsourced one of its most vital public democratic functions to a company called Associated Knowledge Systems, which has nearly 30 years’ experience in the field of copying numbers off pieces of paper and keying them into a content management system.

The various transcription errors were identified by a local Conservative Party activist and sometime election junkie, John Cartwright. Last week’s elections had been the first in around 20 years that Cartwright had not stood for election in one of the borough’s wards on behalf of the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Cartwright contacted Elvery to report the errors on Friday, but the chief executive was not in his office to respond. It would seem that the council had no contingency to deal with glitches or flaws in its election results over the period of the Bank Holiday weekend.

Cartwright – who had himself struggled to locate the result on the Croydon Council website – wrote to Inside Croydon to say, “There seems to be an anomaly in my copy of the results from Sanderstead ward.”

Even at 1pm today, the official council website showed UKIP’s Sanderstead candidate polling just 201 votes. Cartwright’s notes showed 281 votes, or just 6 per cent of the poll. “But if the correct figure is 1281 then it would be 29 per cent, which is more likely because it would be comparable to the 28 per cent which UKIP got in Heathfield, 24 per cent in Selsdon and Ballards, and 17 per cent in Kenley,” Cartwright said.

“If the UKIP vote in Sanderstead was indeed 1281 (29 per cent), it would help to explain the fact that Sanderstead was one of only two wards in which the percentage of the vote for Labour actually went down (the other being Selsdon and Ballards). The figure of 281 is unlikely to be correct, because if true it would be the lowest percentage vote for UKIP in the whole borough.”

Similar errors have been noticed in the results for other wards.

By Sunday, Cartwright had been “reliably informed that the correct figure for UKIP in Sanderstead is 891. All of the results sheets are being double-checked and will be published on the Croydon Council website on Tuesday morning, after the Bank Holiday”.

That is still yet to happen. It indicates that while council officials had access to more accurate information, they were unable to take action to correct their own website, presumably because the AKS alone had access to the election pages.

Here is what we believe to be the overall election results for Croydon:

Council elections 2014
Overall votes cast (and vote share)

Lab 36,303 (36.0%)
Con 33,640 (33.4%)
UKIP 15,477 (15.4%)
Green 8,052 (8.0%)
LibDem 5,503 (5.5%)
Others 1,773 (1.7%)

European elections in Croydon 2014
Overall votes cast (and vote share)

Lab 32,439 (32.9%)
Con 26,687 (27.1%)
UKIP 19,560 (19.8%)
Green 6,829 (6.9%)
LibDem 3,768 (3.8%)

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4 Responses to Council publishes ‘unofficial’ election results with errors

  1. Part of the problem here seems to be that the council decided to change from one technology/website provider to another over the weekend, and that the change-over has taken longer than expected. This was arranged months ago, before the date of the election was changed from early May to late May.

    I am informed that the official results have now been posted on the noticeboards at the Town Hall, and that election staff at the council are (almost) as frustrated as we are about the delay in getting the website sorted out.

  2. We arrived just before 11pm.
    Around 3am I asked Mr Elvery to provide chairs. I had to ask twice.
    I left Trinity School at 8.30am.
    The sheets for registering the “mixed trays” must have been designed by an alien.
    It was the most shambolic count I have ever seen.

  3. Rod Davies says:

    While I wasn’t involved in any aspect of the election, other than voting, I can confidently say from experience that most people underestimate the complexity and the volume of work required to stage an election in Croydon. Croydon is a large and busy borough which makes the logistics difficult. Croydon doesn’t have a standing team to carry this out.
    The choice of count venue is limited. The Town Hall is too small. Fairfield Halls is a messy venue with bits of space in various halls, rooms, galleries and corridors, and bringing in the ballot boxes together with all the other material at polling station close is a nightmare. Trinity School, being generously endowed, has the space and facilities, and traffic movements are easier (& there’s considerable parking space)
    Bernard Wetherill House (Fishers Folly / Rouse House) could be used provided officers and FM cleared the space. The empty Ellis / Seegas Houses could be used if utilities were switched back on.
    However, LB Croydon should look at how other London Boroughs resource & organise elections, and draw what lessons there may be.

  4. surrey21 says:

    I think the count was pretty well organised to be honest – far calmer than in 2010. Given some The mixed vote local ballot paper has literally hundreds of possible combinations, and the sheet used to tally up the mixed votes looked to be a good solution to keeping track of these.

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