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First ever Police Commissioner election “shambles” produced record local poll reveals watchdog report

The Electoral Commission has gravely criticised last November’s first ever elections for new Police and Crime Commissioners, declaring the low poll of 15.1 per cent the lowest recorded level of participation at a peacetime non-government local election in the country.

And in a hard-hitting report issued today (Tuesday) it revealed that in Wiltshire the total number of spoilt ballot papers was such a high percentage of the overall votes cast that handling them cost the taxpayer £30,000.

Only one in five people had enough information on their commissioner candidates to make informed decisions, the Commission points out and calls for significant changes to be made before the next PCC elections in 2016 and for future referendums.

Labour have demanded an apology from the home secretary for the "serious failings" her department made in holding the "shambolic" elections.

Jenny Watson, who chairs the Electoral Commission, revealed: "There were many different reasons why people didn’t vote last November and like any election there’s a limit to how much these can be addressed by decisions Government can make.  But one of them was not knowing about the candidates and something can be done about that."

“It’s not enough to think that simply holding an election will inspire participation.  That's why at the 2016 PCC elections a candidate information booklet must be sent to every household."

And she added: “Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy.  It’s vital that the rules surrounding them are clear, workable and in place in good time.  The rules for these elections were confirmed unacceptably late causing confusion for candidates and electoral administrators."

“The Home Office doesn’t have experience in preparing for elections and they need to be better supported in future by the parts of Government that do.”

The independent elections watchdog discovered that the most common reason for not voting was a lack of awareness about the polls (37 per cent).

Circumstances, such as a “lack of time” followed at 31 per cent.  Another eight  per cent said they were uninterested, seven per cent thought the elections were not important.

Over a quarter -- some 28 per cent -- of people said they knew “nothing at all” and 48 per cent knew “not very much” about what the PCC elections were about.

More than half – a total of 55 per cent -- of respondents found it difficult to access information about the candidates standing in the election.

The Commission also found that the government order setting out how much Returning Officers could spend to run and promote the elections locally came into force on 13 September, just three and a half weeks before the start of the election period.

Guidance on funding from the Home Office arrived only four working days before the election.

The  Commission also conducted a survey of candidates that stood at the elections. It showed that almost half (44 per cent) said it was difficult to get the 100 signatures required for their nomination to stand while 74 per cent of independents agreed / tended to agree with this.    

Thirty nine per cent of candidates also said it was difficult to raise the £5,000 deposit required for their nomination, which compares with the £500 deposit and only 10 signatures to secure a nomination for parliamentary elections.

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