COUNCIL chiefs have issued an apology after the name of the Ukip parliamentary candidate for Darlington was missed off dozens of ballot papers.

The party is calling for answers following the mistake, but Darlington Borough Council said the vote will continue as normal.

The election result will stand, unless formally challenged. If a challenge is made, a court will determine what happens next.

Cath Whitehead, acting returning officer for the General Election in Darlington, said: “We would like to issue a sincere apology to David Hodgson, the UKIP candidate, and the 89 voters at Whessoe Parish Hall who placed their votes before the error on the Ballot paper was spotted and rectified. This was due to our error.

“The decision has been made to continue with the election and the count as normal as we wish to maintain the individual’s rights to have the way they voted remain confidential, this would not be the case if we went through the ballot boxes and pulled out the 89 votes.

“The candidate and any electors have the right to challenge the outcome.”

Mr Hodgson, pictured below, said the council had "serious questions to answer".

The council has issued a Q&A document in which it attempts to clear up some of the issues raised as a result of the fiasco.

The Northern Echo:

The authority confirmed on Thursday morning that 89 ballot papers had been issued without Mr Hodgson's name at the town's Whessoe Parish Hall polling station.

The incorrect ballot papers were withdrawn when the mistake was spotted and replacements were delivered to the polling station.

Ada Burns, the council's chief executive, said the authority had taken advice from the Electoral Commission and officers were confident the election could go ahead as normal.

But college lecturer Mr Hodgson demanded to know how the mistake had happened.

"Whilst the error was rectified after a number of people contacted UKIP to complain that my name was not on the ballot paper, there are serious questions to answer at the council.

"How can this have happened? Who is going to take responsibility? And what will be done to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again and no candidate ever finds themselves removed from the ballot paper in future. 

"What is particularly galling is that Darlington Council is not prepared to take responsibility nor offer an apology."

Labour candidate Jenny Chapman said she had been briefed about the problem, adding: "I'm furious and I understand completely how Mr Hodgson feels."

Darlington Council said in a statement: "Approximately 89 ballot papers (0.1 per cent of the total number of ballot papers printed) had been issued, but as soon as the issue was identified, corrected ballot papers were issued to the polling station concerned."

Officials said the authority had two options - to try to contact the 89 voters and call them back or proceed with the election with the 89 votes counting.

Due to doubts that all 89 would be contactable, the council has chosen the second option.

If the 89 votes are critical to the result at the end of the polling a petition challenging the outcome could be mounted and considered by a court of law.

Ukip North-East MEP Jonathan Arnott said the mistake was "unacceptable in a 21st century democracy".
"For even one voter to be denied the opportunity to choose between all of the candidates at a General Election is appalling."

Mr Arnott demanded to know if the council had contacted all other polling stations within the constituency and that they were 100 per cent confident that the correct ballot papers had been used everywhere else.

He also asked that:

  • The ballot papers lacking one of the candidates are null and void, and should not be counted.
  •  Any people affected will have the right to return to the polling station by 10pm to cast a valid vote.

"These questions have not been addressed in their statement, and need to be clarified as soon as possible.  It is a simple matter of democracy," he said.

"The question of how such an error could have occurred is substantial, and should be investigated further in the coming days.”

Whessoe polling station continued to be open to voters throughout the day with the majority of voters unaware that a mistake had occurred.

The Northern Echo:

When told about the error, voter Versha Robinson, 47, said: "This shouldn't have happened."

Keith Bellamy, 77, added: "It's not very good if they're missing people off is it."