'Fiasco' over polling cards

RESIDENTS have been told NOT to vote in today s (Thursday) Royston Town Council by-election. They received hand-delivered letters on Tuesday saying polling cards had been sent out by mistake. The residents on one side of Barkway Road are in the Heath war

RESIDENTS have been told NOT to vote in today's (Thursday) Royston Town Council by-election.

They received hand-delivered letters on Tuesday saying polling cards had been sent out by mistake.

The residents on one side of Barkway Road are in the Heath ward - not the Meridian ward, where the by-election is taking place.

Those on the opposite side of Barkway Road, and in Limekiln Close, do have the right to vote.

The mix-up was discovered by Liberal Democrats during election campaigning.

Caroline Coates, who is running the party's campaign for candidate Lisa Thompson, described the mix-up as a "fiasco".

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Polling cards had been issued by North Herts District Council - but were delivered to properties on the odd-numbered side of Barkway Road, where residents do have a vote in the by-election.

Boundary changes seem to have confused the issue because district council wards are now working on a different configuration than the town council wards.

Originally, it was believed that all residents in Barkway Road and Limekiln Close had been transferred into the adjacent Heath ward.

This is the case for district council elections - but not for town council elections.

Ms Coates said: "The whole episode has the look of incompetence.

"We accept that we are working on different boundaries, but people who were not supposed to vote should not have been sent polling cards - and some of them could have postal votes."

She has been assured, however, that polling station staff are aware of the problem and will turn away anyone who is not entitled to vote.

Staff will also be making a careful check on postal votes which were due to be counted earlier today.

It is believed that the district council has already returned a number of postal votes to those not entitled to take part in the ballot.

Residents on the "wrong" side of Barkway Road have also received a hand-delivered letter from the district council pointing out the situation.

And Royston's district councillors have each received a letter saying that the mistake occurred because of "a clerical error".

In the letter electoral services manager Julie Williams said: "Certain electors from Barkway Road have received poll cards. Unfortunately, these electors are not entitled to vote."

She said anyone not in the correct ward attending the polling station at Icknield Walk School would not be issued with a ballot paper.

Ms Coates continued: "It would have been worse if we had raised the issue after the by-election.

"Then we would have been involved in a legal process and the by-election, I think, would have been declared void.

"It would mean going through it all again," she said.

She added: "It's about the district council not checking the boundary. It comes down to taking care and experience in such a situation."

Meanwhile town councillor Robert Smith, who is running Conservative candidate Graham Palmer's campaign, has said that there should be a move to get the boundaries for both district council and town council elections to be identical.

"Once the by-election is out of the way it is certainly a question which will be taken up.

"It's crazy that people just don't know where they stand," he said.

"This whole situation will be resolved if the boundaries are consistent. At the moment the situation is bizarre."

Cllr Smith said the issue was expected to be raised by the town council, and he would be lobbying district councillors for a change.

One problem which has arisen from the current situation is that in 2010 when district and town council elections will be taking place, some voters may have to visit TWO polling stations.

In the last boundary changes, the area of Willowside Walk was transferred into the Palace ward, but, at the moment, it will still be in the Heath ward for town council elections.

Ms Coates said: "I really can't see people going to two polling stations."

The issue over ward boundaries was raised on Monday evening during a meeting of the town council.

Royston's mayor, Cllr Paul Grimes, said then that the situation was "ridiculous".

Speaking to The Crow after the meeting, Cllr Grimes said the current situation was "a recipe for confusion".

He continued: "Surely common sense would suggest it would be better to align the boundaries.

"We should be making it as easy and as clear as possible for people to vote.

"Making the boundaries the same for all elections strikes me as one of the easier methods of achieving this."

The by-election has been called after the death of Cllr Peter Lill, who suffered a massive heart attack on the last day of his term as Mayor of Royston in May.

The other candidate standing is Vaughan West, of the Labour Party.