Tuesday 26 April 2016

21,800 shades of grey

One of the juiciest perks enjoyed by council chief executives is the role of returning officer, and the untimely departure of Bryn Parry Jones in Pembrokeshire means that Mark James is now the doyen of the very exclusive club of local authority returning officers in the south-west.

Why extremely well-paid chief executives should be paid huge bonuses for overseeing elections is a mystery, and sadly Plaid Cymru's proposals to reform the system were stonewalled by Labour a couple of years ago.

The result is that 2016 will produce a bumper crop of fees for Mark James, what with the elections to the Assembly, the police commisisoner election and the upcoming EU referendum. We won't get much change out of £30,000, and if that was not generous enough, Mr James can also decide when it is most tax efficient to pay himself. How many council staff entitled to claim "expenses" can submit a claim and be paid in advance for the work to be carried out?

Mr James has had plenty of practice at organising elections over the years, so perhaps the bungling we have seen this year is down to the loss of Bryn Parry Jones's guiding hand.

First, Carmarthenshire County Council lost applications for postal votes. This was blamed on a technical issue at the printers.

If we are to believe that, a lot of personal information vanished into the ether, with the council not having kept any electronic files of the data. Perhaps it was inscribed on parchment with quill pens and posted to the printers who binned it as junk mail. But whatever happened, it was of course somebody else's fault.

Next, 28,000 postal ballots for the Welsh Assembly elections were sent out with a serious wording error, meaning that the council had to write to everyone and send out a new batch at almost the last minute.

Anyone who has used the incorrect papers to vote will find that their vote does not count. But don't panic. Here is the council's explanation.

Got that? Bin the grey version, and use the tan coloured papers. Here they are:

You may be forgiven for thinking that the new ballot papers look, um, grey.

A concerned old age pensioner contacted Y Cneifiwr to say, "the original mid and west Wales ballot paper was pale green, not grey. The new ballot paper is grey not tan . The instructions tell us to jettison the old "grey" ballot paper and replace it with the new "tan" ballot paper.  Presumably therefore if we send back the new ballot paper which is not tan, but grey, they will think it's the old grey, but actually green, ballot paper and it will be null and void."

And the bad news may not stop there. The regional voting system is complex and a very small number of votes could decide the fate of some candidates, opening up the possibility of legal challenge and, in the worst case scenario, a re-run of the election and yet more money for Mr James.


Anonymous said...

The Electoral Commission monitored the performance of Returning Officers in the 2015 elections and concluded that at least 30 of them had not met elements of the standard required of them. One of the areas assessed was:
“Print errors with election material
– This includes a range of different print issues with election material which may have led to voter confusion and/or had a potentially negative impact on those standing for election.”

Mr James’s attempt to lay the blame on the printers simply won’t wash. The Electoral Commission states that it is the responsibility of the Returning Officer "to ensure that robust processes are in place for ensuring that there are no errors on voter materials.”

“In particular, you should ensure that you have a member of your staff in attendance when the postal ballot packs are being printed to check that there are no errors and they are being printed to the required specification.”

Anonymous said...

mark james needs to go. Simple. The man is beyond incompetent, indeed it could be argued he deliberately does these things to feather his own nest. in which case, if proven, then its clear and simple fraud. Funny that, as it links very nicely to his other activities regarding unlawful pension payments, unlawful legal claims and other unlawful activities.

The dark lord claims he is in possession of a law degree too, though that too appears to be contrary to the truth. Another questionable act. It is illegal to gain employment on the premise of false information. Gaining a pecuniary advantage through misrepresentation. Perhaps someone can determine on what qualifications james secured his job and whether he actually holds the qualifications he claims. If not, then goodby and good riddance, but not before being prosecuted for telling lies.

The continued persecution of the other blogger just demonstrates him to be a bully. He is relentless in his attacks on her, despite 'winning' his claim with costs covered (win or lose). Perhaps she should take a claim against him for harassment.

Anonymous said...

It gets more bizarre - I've just been officially told by the Pembs election office to ignore all reference to colours and just make sure to use the ballot paper with the correct wording. Following that, I now hear that the council is referring to the new ballot paper as "lilac". It gets more like a dead parrot Monty Python sketch every hour.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @11.03 Incompetent, well it looks like it, but reluctant though I am to rush to Mr James's defence, I don't think it was deliberate.

Anonymous said...

No doubt he will blame one of the 'rabble' for not spotting the mistake. It's never his fault.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

This is beyond ridiculous. People could well have voted on the erroneous ballot papers as soon as they received them, and then gone on holiday.

Upon their return they will find, too late, a greyish tan replacement for their original ballot.

The fourth seat in the regional list could be deliciously close, and maladministration is a good reason to have any dodgy result declared void. As you say, Cneifiwr, we could have a rerun of the whole regional election. By law, the buck stops (all the bucks stop, in fact) with the Returning Officer - he cannot lay the blame at anyone else's door.

Beyond parody.