Now we can't even organise an election: Scandal as tens of thousands of voters turned away in polling stations shambles Last updated at 4:38 AM on 7th May 2010 Electoral Commission to conduct investigation after thousands denied vote Harriet Harman claims election results could be open to legal challenge Police throw voters out of polling stations after 10pm deadline passes Human rights lawyer says those denied vote could claim £750 compensation Problems in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle The Electoral Commission has launched an urgent inquiry as tens of thousands of people were unable to vote last night after polling stations were unable to cope with a late surge. There were chaotic scenes in towns and cities including London, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol as polling stations failed dismally to cope with the high turnout. Senior politicians said the fiasco made Britain seem like a Third World country. There was confusion as some polling stations after staff closed the door in the faces of people who had been queuing for hours. While at others, voters were allowed in past the 10pm deadline. Police were called in to remove people who protested when they were not allowed to cast their ballot. Scroll down to watch a video report Turned away: These voters had made it inside the polling station in Dalston, North-East London, but were still told they had to leave without putting a cross on paper Leaving it late: In common with thousands across the UK, these voters in Leeds feared they would be denied their right to vote In addition, several polling stations ran out of ballot papers. Voting in scores of marginal constituencies may have been affected and the Electoral Commission - the body responsible for running the poll - warned results could now be challenged in the courts. Leading human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said that people denied the right to vote could take legal action. 'These people have a right to sue,' he said. 'They will get at least £750 in my view. Under the European Convention you have a right to vote. 'They were terribly disappointed, they should all sue and get money from the election commission, which seems to have incompetently overseen it.' Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman agreed it was likely that many constituency results would be open to legal challenge. Virtually every city in England was affected, with police called in to deal with unprecedented scenes of chaos and protest in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield. Reports flooded in from dozens of polling stations of problems throughout the day with some distributing the wrong papers, hundreds missing from the electoral role and in one case, 600 postal votes lost. In the marginal seat of Chester, where Labour has a majority of just 973, Labour party officials claimed that more than 600 people were turned away because polling lists had not been updated. As he was re-elected in Witney, David Cameron said one of the first tasks of the new government would be 'to get to the bottom of what has happened and make sure that never ever happens again.' A spokesman for Gordon Brown said he was 'very concerned by the reports and would support a thorough investigation into them'. Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond said he could 'well understand the fury of thousands of people who queued for some considerable time to be allowed to vote. 'It's a Third World lack of democracy we are seeing.' And there was a growing possibility that the final outcome of the tightest election in decades will be decided not by voters at the ballot box but by judges in the courts. Painfully slow progress: Would-be voters wait their turn in Bristol, where there were reports of long queues outside as late as 9.50pm ¿ giving officials just ten minutes to try to deal with the late surge Rage in the rain: Hundreds of voters protested after being turned away in Nick Clegg¿s Sheffield Hallam constituency In a statement, the Electoral Commission said: 'Each returning officer is responsible for deciding numbers of polling stations in their constituency and the numbers of electors allocated to each polling station. 'By law, polls must close at 10pm and any voter issued with a ballot paper by 10pm should be allowed time to cast it, but no ballot paper should be issued after 10pm. 'There should have been sufficient resources allocated to ensure that everyone who wished to vote was able to do so. 'The Electoral Commission will be undertaking a thorough review of what has happened in those constituencies where people have been unable to vote.' Jenny Watson, chairman of the Electoral Commission which is responsible for regulating elections, warned that returning officers who turned voters away 'may well be subject to election petition'. A petition is a legal challenge to the election which will mean a court ruling on whether the poll should be rerun. There were significant concerns, she said, and added that the law may have to change as well as the system for voting, which is a relic from the Victorian era. An election decided in the courts would mirror the American electoral disaster in 2000 when ultimately the Supreme Court ruled on the hanging chads fiasco in Florida and made George W. Bush president. No British election has been mired in the kind of confusion and disorder that broke out last night since Victorian times, risking international embarrasment in a vote already being monitored by the Commonwealth for irregularities. There was outcry among politicians and party members tonight as people were turned away. Nick Clegg went to apologise personally to voters in his Sheffield Hallam constituency who had doors shut in their face. More... The expenses' exodus: House of Commons braced for flood of 350 rookie MPs TORIES: Dave makes tea for SamCam (and buys some eggs) before going to the polls LEO MCKINSTRY: A laughing stock in the eyes of the world BRITAIN DECIDES: Exit polls forecast a hung parliament as Cameron falls short of overall majority by 19 seats LABOUR: Brown braves Scottish drizzle to cast his vote before retreating to comforts of home Two Labour MPs were among the first to challenge the reliability of the ballot A Hackney Labour spokesman said: 'Hackney's two Labour candidates to become MP, Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier, launched an official complaint to the borough's returning officer tonight after Labour candidates relayed protests from life-long Labour supporters that their votes had been ignored.' Conservative candidate in Hackney Simon Nayyar also called for investigation into why voters there were turned away from polling stations, according to Tory sources. In some areas there were threats of disorder, with protests forming in Hackney South. At least 150 voters were turned away from one polling station alone after some had been forced to queue for more than an hour and a half. Andrew Boff, Conservative mayoral candidate, said people were furious and 'it was getting ugly' at the Triangle Road polling station - where there were just three staff - after they were told could not vote. Running out of time: It¿s 9.45pm in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, and there¿s little sign of these voters making it inside POLLING STATIONS IN CHAOS Chester: Polling lists not updated - 600 people turned away in a marginal seat Sheffield Hallam: Voters turned away after queuing for three hours.Claims in Ranmoor that locals were 'fast-tracked' while 5,000 students made to queue separately. 200 people turned away and police called Liverpool Wavertree: Polling stations ran out of ballot papers Lewisham, London: More than 300 people turned away by police at 10pm. Two polling stations remained open after deadline, but all ballot papers had been issued Hackney South and Shoreditch, London: At least 150 voters turned away by police after 10pm. Protests were forming Dalston, London: Voters turned away by police after hour-long queues Hackney North and Stoke Newington, London: Voters turned away by police Battersea, London: Some voters turned away Camberwell and Peckham, London: Queues at 10pm but those inside allowed to vote Ealing, London: Huge queues remained at 10pm Islington North, London: Many turned away after 10pm after queues began forming at 7.15pm Withington, Manchester: 200 people not allowed to vote after 10pm Penistone and Stocksbridge, Yorkshire: Voters turned away at 10pm Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands: Voters locked into polling station at 10pm Ladywood, Birmingham: Voters turned away after 10pm at the Jewellery Quarter Milton Keynes: Voters turned away after 10pm Heaton and Jesmond, Newcastle: 450 people ushered into two polling stations to vote after 10pm 'People were very angry,' he said. Would-be voters staged a sit-in protest after the ballot boxes closed and police had to be called. Liz Veitch, the last person to vote there after waiting for more than an hour and a half, said the queue had been snaking out of the building and down the street. 'There are an awful lot of extremely angry people around here. 'It's an absolute scandal. I can't see how the results for Hackney can be counted as the results of the election,' she said. In Sheffield Hallam, Mr Clegg's constituency, where queues of up to three hours had formed, disenfranchised voters were reported to have tried to block roads to stop ballot boxes leaving polling stations. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said: 'What the returning officers should have done is brought everyone in and locked the door.' He said he was concerned about the failure of some people to get in and vote because traditionally Conservatives voted earlier than Labour supporters. Shadow business secretary Kenneth Clarke said it was 'very worrying' that people had been turned away. 'I trust somebody sorts out what on earth went wrong and made it so difficult for people to vote.' He added: 'The returning officers may owe people an apology if it's in any way down to them and I think we ought to get an explanation.' Dr Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society said: 'The picture emerging of voters being turned away from polls in droves is quite horrendous. We have a credibility gap in our elections. Our system is broken, but tonight administrative failures are adding insult to injury.' Former Hillsborough MP Helen Jackson who said the situation was 'disgraceful'. Veteran BBC news anchor David Dimbleby called the situation a 'scandal' and said it will spark calls for an inquiry. Some polling stations ran out of ballot papers because of the unexpectedly high turnout. Electors in the Liverpool Wavertree constituency were told they had to wait for new forms to be delivered before they could cast their votes. Joseph Shone, 66, went to vote at 5pm and returned at 8.30pm before eventually tearing up his polling card up in frustration as the queue was so long. He said: 'The queue was astronomical. It was perishingly cold. Its disgusting. Theres that many people turning round and just saying forget it.' Returning officer Colin Hilton apologised for the problem but insisted everyone who wanted to vote 'had the opportunity to do so'. Flare up: Voters in Fallowfield, Manchester, were outraged when officials told them that they were too late to vote Mr Hilton, who is also chief executive of Liverpool City Council, said: 'Due to unprecedented and unexpected high turnout in the Wavertree constituency, a small number of polling stations ran out of ballot papers in the early evening. 'As is normal procedure in these circumstances, additional ballot papers were delivered very swiftly to these stations.' He added: 'The very high turnout has caused similar problems in other parts of the country.' Liberal Democrat candidate for the area, Colin Eldridge, said: 'If this was happening in a third world country we would talking about dictatorships and calling the United Nations in.' Geoff Curtis, Weybridge, Surrey said: 'I was told by those at the pollng station that there had been long queues for most of the day and the returning officer was aware of the situation, but nothing had been done to remedy it.' Ms Harman said there had been huge queues in her Camberwell and Peckham constituency tonight and said people had been queuing at the deadline. 'It shows that there has been a high turn-out. We have got to make sure that all the votes are counted.' Chaos in the capital: There were problems of across London. These anxious voters are part of a long queue in Ealing She said that polling stations closed their doors at 10pm but those already inside could vote. These arrangements were not a matter for the Government but for the election authorities, she added. And police were called to a polling station in Manwood Road, Lewisham, south London, where around 300 people had yet to vote by 10pm. There were reports that the polling station stayed open for half an hour beyond the deadline to allow people in. The returning officer said several stations stayed open past the deadline, but said all voters had been issued with ballot papers. There were reports of similar situations in other parts of the country, particularly in parts of London including Ealing, Camberwell, Peckham, Islington, Dalston and Lambeth. In the Manchester's Withington constituency, around 200 people were turned away. Kathy Murray, 31, said: 'I'm fuming. I queued for over an hour and had the doors shut on me, along with about 250 others, at 10pm. Anger: Voters remonstrate with the returning officer after being told they cannot cast their ballot Protest: Hundreds of students who queued for hours, only to find they were not allowed to vote, staged a sit-it before being removed by police at the Ranmore Parish Centre in Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency ELECTION PETITION: POLL RESULT CHALLENGED The outcome of an election may be questioned in a special electoral court by the presentation of a petition under the Representation of the People Act. Just one voter, or an unsuccessful candidate, can take advantage of this mechanism in the case of disputed parliamentary elections and elections to the European Parliament. For local elections, the petition needs to be presented by four or more voters or an unsuccessful candidate. One of the best publicised cases occurred in 1961. Tony Benn was disqualified from taking his seat in the Commons after he inherited a peerage and became Viscount Stansgate. Mr Benn won the ensuing by-election, yet was still ruled to be ineligible to sit in the Commons by an electoral court after his opponent, Malcolm St. Clair, appealed against the result. 'We initially went at 6pm, but it was too busy so we went back an hour later, but there were still big queues. 'We went back at 9pm but after waiting for an hour, we still couldn't vote. There were only two people on duty at the polling station and just one person handing out ballot papers.' In Newcastle, hundreds of queuing voters were ushered into two polling stations before the 10pm deadline and they were allowed to vote after the cut-off point because they were safely inside, a city council spokesman said. There were 300 people waiting outside a polling station in Heaton and 150 outside one in Jesmond, the spokesman said, who were still able to vote because of the move. Dozens of people were blocked from voting in a marginal seat after a 'shambolic' mix-up over the electoral register, Labour officials said today. In Chester, Christine Russell, who is standing for re-election as Labour MP, said many constituents were turned away because they had not been included on an updated list of people entitled to vote. She said it was thought people registered within the past month were affected. 'It was people who were legally registered to vote but who had not been included on the list at polling stations,' she said. 'We are aware of it happening at at least six polling stations. We've had formal complaints from voters.' Problems: In Leeds, queues formed round the block as people tried to vote Confrontation: Staff and voters argue at Clissold Leisure Centre polling station in Stoke Newington The seat, which Ms Russell won with a 915 majority in 2005, has been targeted by the Conservatives, with pundits suggesting the constituency was one of Labour's most vulnerable in the North West. 'The clerks were trying to check the lists with the town hall but, by 1pm, you just couldn't get through on the phone. 'It's just a shambolic administration, a lack of preparation and a lack of training.' She said she would await the outcome of the election before considering any further action. Cheshire West and Chester Council was unavailable for comment but a spokeswoman told the Chester Chronicle: 'A handful of people turned up at the polling stations on Thursday morning and the staff on duty tried to ring the electoral office to check if they were on the register. 'Unfortunately, the phone line was engaged so the voters, some of whom were probably on their way to work, were reassured and advised to come back later in the day.' In Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency, there were reports of some people waiting for up to three hours to cast their vote. Students tried to prevent ballot boxes from being taken away for the count after they were turned away from a polling station. One student from Sheffield University claimed he had queued for hours to vote there and was locked inside the polling station, only to be thrown out by police after 10pm. Police action: Officers turn away voters in Dalston after the 10pm deadline passes. Those polling stations which allowed voters in could cause legal challenges by candidates John Mothersole, returning officer for Sheffield, apologised to residents who were unable to vote. He said: 'We got this wrong and I would like to apologise. We were faced with a difficult situation with the numbers of people, and a large amount of students turning up to vote without polling cards. 'This made the administration process of ensuring the correct person was given a ballot paper much longer. Deputy returning officer Lee Adams said around 200 people were turned away at Ranmoor in Sheffield. There, some voters reported queues being split into two queues - one for 'residents' and another, much longer queue, for 'students'. Police were called to deal with a crowd of around 100 people who were angry at being denied the chance to cast their ballot, she said. Ms Adams admitted staff 'couldn't cope' with the number of people who turned up to vote. 'We increased the staffing at about 4pm when the staff at the polling station told us they needed help, so we did that straight away. 'Unfortunately, the combination of the numbers turning up and the fact that many were students and didn't have their polling cards just meant it took longer to process and make sure the right person had the right ballot paper and we just couldn't cope, basically. 'So, extremely apologetic and distraught about that, but at 10pm unfortunately we couldn't process any more votes and so people there were turned away.' The people turned away included some who had made it inside the polling station, which was located in St John's church hall. Queuing round the block: Voters wait in line 15 minutes before the polls closed at Jesmond Methodist Church in Newcastle Queuing: Hundreds of voters staged a sit-in protest in Hackney after they were turned away when the polling station closed at 10pm Police officers were called because staff were concerned for their safety. 'People were angry, understandably, particularly the students. They wished to stay and find out what happened.' A Facebook group set up in protest at treatment of student voters at the polling station in Ranmoor urges those involved to complain to Sheffield City Council about the way students were segregated. It has attracted more than 1,700 members. Sheffield University student Kate Baldwin, 19, who set up the group, said she queued for two hours to vote at the St Johns polling station, along with hundreds of others. The Philosophy and French student, who is from Bristol, said it was mainly students in the 100 plus people who were left unable to vote at 10pm. She said officials were overwhelmed by the numbers of students who turned up and seemed unaware so many were registered to vote at that polling station. She said: 'It was just plain discrimination. People were disgusted. This was the first time people like me were voting and then this happens. It was horrendous what happened there.' The BBC said it had taken calls from voters in the Penistone and Stocksbridge constituency in South Yorkshire who were told by officials at their polling station that if they had not voted by 10pm, the doors would close. Those in queues elsewhere were told that long as long as they were queuing by 10pm, their vote would count. In Sutton Coldfield, in the West Midlands, voters were locked inside the Mere Green Polling Station at 10pm as the queues were so long. They said that anyone who turned up before 10pm was entitled to vote even if they were stuck in a queue. A laughing stock in the eyes of the world by Leo McKinstry Nothing that the state bureaucracy now touches seems to function properly. The disgraceful chaos at polling stations shows more starkly than ever the collapse of efficient public administration under Labour in modern Britain. After 13 years of government, the shambles at the close of polls last night was almost incredible. Organising the administrative process for elections should be a routine task one that has been taking place in Britain ever since the early Victorian age. Neither the Electoral Commission, which is ultimately responsible for the system, nor the local authorities were under any real pressure, for they have had five years to prepare for this contest. Any successful private company would have found the job perfectly simple. Yet the municipal penpushers and the Commissioners have allowed our democracy to descend into a shambles. One characteristic blunder occurred in Sheffield, where council officers decided to divide the electorate into two sections: long-term residents and students. The result was utter disaster: the 10pm deadline was reached with a long line of students still waiting outside the station. What is so disturbing about this mess is that it may have implications for the election result and ultimately the destiny of our country. With the outcome on a knife edge, every vote should count. But this farce has meant that no one can have any real confidence that the will of the people has been expressed. In the vital marginal seat of Chester, where Labour is defending a majority of just 917, more than 600 voters were said to have been shut out of the polling. It was the same story in Islington South in London, where the sitting Labour MP Emily Thornberry has a majority of just 464. Again, hundreds were denied the chance to vote, with the consequence that angry demonstrations were held and police had to be called. Given the extent of the debacle, it is inevitable that there will be legal challenges to individual constituency results. This will make the overall national result even more uncertain at the very moment, amidst the current global financial crisis, that Britain needs decisive political leadership. Peter Mandelson was claiming pathetically last night that Labour could be hit more by this chaos than their Conservative opponents since, he claimed, Labour supporters tend to vote later. But it is his party that is to blame. Before 1997 the British electoral system, in the hands of local returning officers, functioned smoothly. But, with its instincts for bureaucratic tinkering and central control, Labour chose to change the system and hand oversight of the job to a new quango, the Electoral Commission. The result, inevitably, has been widespread confusion and inefficiency leading to the humiliating cenes last night. The havoc has only helped to further undermine trust in the electoral system which has already been weakened by the scandal over postal votes and mass irregularities in the electoral register. Already, 50 investigations are under way across the countryinto serious electoral fraud.But this has been the pattern of state officialdom under Labour. For while funnelling money into the public sector, this Government has grotesquely undermined its ability because political considerations such as diversity, politically- correct box-ticking and employee rights have been placed above efficiency. The 2010 General Election will be forever tainted by this farce. With the eyes of the world upon us,we have been turned into an international laughing stock. As for those who blame a high turnout, they should cast their mind back a decade or two. Yesterdays turnout looks like being below 70 per cent. In the 1950s and 1960s, returning officers coped easily with turnouts above 85 per cent. But that was before New Labours mismanagement tookover.