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Staffordshire council CEO suspended following general election controversy

Two officers from Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council have been suspended following the results of a review into almost 1,500 people who were unable to vote in the general election.

The constituency – which saw the successful Labour MP win by just 30 votes – was mired in controversy after nearly 1,000 potential electors were not included on the election register and two people not entitled to vote were able to cast a ballot.

In addition, there were 500 postal voters who were not sent their voting forms, mostly because of a failure to correctly use the appropriate software.

Following the results of an investigation into the polling issues, the authority has chosen to suspend both chief executive John Sellgren, who was the acting returning officer, and Elizabeth Dodd, head of audit & elections and the monitoring officer.

Council leader Elizabeth Shenton said the local authority had to act quickly to “rebuild public confidence in the electoral system.”

“We have never experienced significant difficulties like this in our borough before during the many elections we have run, whether they were for parliament, Staffordshire County Council, national referendums or our own borough council,” she explained.

“However, this review indicates a number of problems. I sincerely apologise on behalf of the council for that situation but we can’t turn the clock back and right any wrongs which occurred at that time.

“But what I think local people would expect me to do as leader is make sure these failings never happen again and we can begin the process of trying to rebuild public confidence in the election system in Newcastle-under-Lyme.”

Andrew Scallon was brought in from the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) to conduct the review after some students at Keele University and some postal voters complained that they had not been allowed to vote despite following procedures.

As well as actions surrounding the two suspended officers, the report also includes a call on the government to modernise the petition process for how the outcome of an election can be challenged.

The council leader said her authority had already gone “above and beyond” the recommendations of the report.

“In addition to interim management arrangements, an advert has been placed for a new post of electoral services manager,” Shenton commented.

“The council is also working with the LGA to bring in experienced elections staff from another local authority to help us deal with two borough council by-elections early in December and begin preparations for our first all-out council elections in May 2018.”

The leader has also asked the mayor to call a special meeting of full council to consider the whole report and its recommendations.

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