Heavy cost of election blunder
Posted: 23rd January 2013
Confusion over similar names led to a mistake by vote counters that resulted in a Conservative candidate being wrongly declared duly elected to a council seat in the Labour Party’s north Wales heartland. Strict procedural safeguards laid down by the Representation of the People Act 1918 meant that two High Court hearings were required before the mistake could be remedied.
Labour candidate, Paul Penlington, lodged an election petition after his Conservative rival, Allan Pennington, was declared the winner of the May 2011 poll in Prestatyn North. It was acknowledged at an early stage by Denbighshire County Council that human error had resulted in block votes cast for Mr Penlington being mistakenly counted towards his rival’s total.
On the day of the election in May 2011, Mr Pennington was declared to have received 580 votes to Mr Penlington's 366. However, pursuant to a High Court order, the votes were subsequently recounted in conditions of strict secrecy by a Master of the Queen’s Bench Division in the presence of the candidates.
The recount recorded 606 votes to Mr Penlington, against Mr Pennington's 341. However, as required by the act, a two-judge Election Court had to be convened to formalise the new result. Mr Justice Collins, sitting with Mrs Justice Slade, accepted that it was Mr Penlington who had been duly elected, not Mr Pennington. The judge observed: 'It appears to have been accepted by everyone that an error was made'.
Lamenting the time it had taken to install Mr Penlington in his rightful seat, the judge added: ‘I am sorry it has taken so long; it's been eight months or so but that can't be helped.’ The substantial legal costs of the case were formally awarded against the election returning officer although, in reality, they will be paid by insurers.