U.K. Election May Face Legal Challenges After Voters Locked Out

The U.K. election may face legal challenges after voters in parts of the country were turned away from casting their ballots when polls closed at 10 p.m.

The Electoral Commission, which oversees voting in the U.K., will investigate procedures at some polling stations, said Jenny Watson, chairwoman of the agency.

Officials “will have to answer to us for the decisions that they have made,” Watson told the British Broadcasting Corp. “Clearly the law is going to have to be reviewed and changed. There may well be election petitions following this.”

Ballots in Leeds, Newcastle and parts of London were among those where an influx of voters at the end of the polling day caused disruption. In Sheffield, returning officer John Mothersole wrote an apology to residents who were unable to vote after lining up to cast ballots.

Senior members of the governing Labour Party, including deputy leader Harriet Harman and Justice Secretary Jack Straw, said that may lead to some results being questioned.

“It shows a lack of foresight and preparation,” Straw told Sky News, adding that there could be legal challenges in some places. “It’s a very unsatisfactory situation. It’s something in my very long experience in British politics I’ve never, ever heard of,” he said.

Brown’s Concern

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman said the premier was very concerned about irregularities. Brown would support a thorough investigation, said the spokesman.

Simon Hughes, a Liberal Democrat with a seat in south London, said he was concerned about the situation earlier in the day and asked electoral officers to prepare for an evening rush.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said on BBC television that officials should have brought in voters lining up on the street and locked the door, allowing them to cast ballots. Mandelson said the situation would disadvantage Labour because its supporters tend to vote later in the day.

“We got this wrong,” Sheffield’s Mothersole said in a statement on the city council’s website. “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.”

Exit polls showed the opposition Conservatives gaining the most seats, though still short of a majority in parliament. It would be the first stalemate since 1974.

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