Concerns raised over validity of Acorn Road vote
UPDATE: This post has been updated at 2pm on November 10th, 2014 to clarify a sentence discussing the provenance of 35 multiple votes from individual households, which could have been read as 35 votes from an individual household.
Queries have been raised by residents, businesspeople and North Jesmond ward councillor Gerry Keating that many of the votes counted in a recent consultation on the future of Acorn Road were not only from outside Jesmond, but were also duplicate votes.
The council has released its final report detailing the results of the Acorn Road vote last week, following an interim report earlier in the year. Although the report outlines a winning proposal based on the votes counted, there has been some condemnation by local residents of how the council has carried out the voting process.
Cllr Keating, who has entered a series of Freedom of Information requests for the data from the Acorn Road vote, discovered that some votes came from as far away as Whitley Bay.
The councillor, who spoke to JesmondLocal earlier this week, said that “in theory, anyone on the planet could have voted.”
Based on his own analysis of the data Cllr Keating received, it appears that 58 of the 424 votes with a valid postcode and house number, more than one in every eight cast, were extra-district votes. As well as this, he commented that 35 of the responses were multiple votes from individual households.
While the report recognises that “the possibility of some duplicate voting exists” Keating urged that the impact of removing these multiple votes could have resulted in a split vote.
“When I was standing for election I said wouldn’t take a view and would accept the outcome unless there were any procedural irregularities and I’m sticking to that,” said Keating.
Further confusion over how the voting process worked have been tabled. The councillor raised concerns that some responses received via email were counted, contrary to initial guidance. “It was in no way said in the beginning that if you voted by email that your votes would be accepted but it looks like some people did email their votes and got counted,” Keating noted.
During last month’s North Jesmond ward meeting one resident was frustrated by the fact that the option for ’no change’, which does appear to sit beside the other two options in the report as a third option, was not clearly published, and was in fact only printed below in the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section of the pamphlet. The resident believed that had this been published clearly as an additional option more residents may have voted.
Cllr Keating feels there is a very real risk that the changes depicted in the ‘winning’ Option 1, may compel retailers on the street (who attended the North Jesmond ward meeting last month to protest the interim results of the vote) to move away, either as a result of, or in anticipation of, a negative impact on their trading.
He is particularly concerned about the future trade of businessman Julian Blades, the proprietor of Jules B, whose three stores on the street attract many affluent shoppers to the area. He surmised that were Blades to pull out, it would have huge economic ramifications on the area.
Cllr Keating also suggested that the extra-district votes could have come from friends of cycling lobbyists who supported Option A. The group, he said, had a very strong and well-organised campaign, which Option B’s supporters lacked. Cllr Keating also commented that with regards to illustration 1, “I think the cycling aspect is a complete red herring – any change will be neutral with regards to cyclists as they will have to navigate Osborne Road or St. George’s Terrace just to get there.”
The consultation received 624 responses. Illustration 1 received 48% of the vote share; Illustration 2 gained 31% of the vote. 13% expressed a preference for ‘no change’, while 8% did not clearly state a view in any direction.