Friday, July 19, 2024

South Basildon and East Thurrock: ‘Mess’ and confusion reported at close-call election count

BASILDON BC leader Gavin Callaghan (Lab) told LGC he hopes to never see an election count like South Basildon and East Thurrock ever again in his political career reports the Local Government Chronicle.

Cllr Callaghan accused the returning officer at Thurrock Council, Dave Smith, of “creating tension” and “causing frustrations” by speaking to candidates and agents in a “very abrasive” way when “emotions are running high” at the closely-contested seat.

Reform candidate James McMurdock narrowly beat Labour candidate and Basildon councillor Jack Ferguson by 98 votes.

This result was declared on Friday afternoon following a bundle check, then a recount at a different venue because of counting errors.

However both the initial count, the bundle check and the recount all produced the same winner.

Cllr Callaghan believes Thurrock may not have been prepared for counting two constituencies in one night for the first time as he recalled finding incorrect ballot papers, “confusing” instructions from the monitoring officers and counting staff leaving before the result was declared.

He said: “I think some of us have PTSD after witnessing a count like that and then again the next day.

“You can accept losing and you can accept things happening but you can’t accept having to question the integrity of the process time and time again and the parties were scratching our heads about some of the decisions that we were seeing and then some of the mistakes.”

He added that he does not think the Tories and his team “have ever been so united in the last 15 years” and “I hope if I’m in politics in the next 30 years I’ll never see a count like that ever again”.

Cllr Callaghan accused the council of an “inconsistent approach” to verifying votes and suggested that “it wasn’t as friendly as it could have been on both sides” so “there should be some learning about how the count was conducted”.

In a statement Thurrock said it had “planned meticulously and prepared tirelessly for these elections”.

Their spokesperson said they “took the decision to carry out first a bundle check, and then a recount given the closeness of the result”, which is “in line with Electoral Commission advice and not an unusual scenario – similar checks and recounts were carried out in other parts of the country”.

They appreciate how the candidates and supporters “feel passionately about the accuracy of the result”  and the returning officer is in “regular contact” with the teams “listening to and responding to their comments and feedback”.

Their statement added: “The recount provided complete assurance that the result was correct, and that the process was robust. At all three stages: the original count; the bundle check; and the recount, the result remained the same.

“We are proud of how our elections staff rose to the challenge of an extremely tight count under great scrutiny, and played their part in the general election.”

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