The election for police and crime commissioner was little short of shambolic here in the Westcountry. The turnout – at just over 15% – marked a record low for any poll. Yet the official declaration of the winner, which did not come until a whole 26 hours after the polls closed, must be one of the slowest on record anywhere in Britain. The excuses given for such a poor performance in the quick and accurate counting of votes – that the figures between the number of ballots issued and the number of votes cast didn't add up – raises questions about the way this election was run, both nationally and regionally. It certainly underlines the case that when we next go to the polls to chose police and crime commissioners the Government must – if it really believes in this new role – put the necessary resources into informing the public about what they are voting for and how to vote.
We accept the explanation for the delay in declaring the Devon and Cornwall outcome, offered by returning officer Kevin Lavery, that votes had to be recounted several times to be sure of a "robust result". He said: "It is important to do it right, rather than do it fast." That, of course, is true. But the fact that so many electors appear to have incorrectly filled out ballot papers, resulting in more than 6,000 rejected ballots in the Westcountry, speaks volumes. Of those 6,000 void votes, 2,108 voted for more than one candidate on the first preference while 3,320 were "void for uncertainty as to the first preference vote". There were instructions in the polling booths about the way the supplementary voting system works. But Britain is a nation where first-past-the-post elections have been held for generations. It is hardly surprising if busy voters, who did take the trouble to go the polling booths, failed to take in the detail of how they should vote and that some made mistakes.
In some areas polling station staff report electors asking them what the police and crime commissioner was all about and even to give advice on the candidates – something they, of course, could not legally do. But they should not have been put on the spot. If the Prime Minister had really believed in this new role and holding elections for it, he should have had the courage of his convictions and run proper advertisements, in newspapers and on television, to promote it, advise on the voting system and ensure more people got the message about the importance of going out to vote. There is no doubt that Tony Hogg, the man who won the election in Devon and Cornwall, does have an important job and that his decisions will have a bearing on the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people. The WMN questioned the wisdom of politically aligned PCCs and remains concerned about how this new role will develop. We are happy, however, to offer our congratulations and backing to Mr Hogg. He must put the shambles of the election behind him and get on with the job.