This is rough and ready and subject to substantial revision in due course. I'm posting it now, due to attempting and not being able to distill it down into 140 character bites to have it on Twitter.
The BBC are reporting (I've no idea how true it is, though no particular reason to doubt this aspect of their reporting) that:
* in some parts of the country, polling stations closed at 10pm, when there were queues of people waiting outside wanting to vote
* in other parts of the country, polling stations have remained open to enable long queues of people to vote
I am horrified at the former.
The purpose of the law about elections is self evident; it is designed to enable constituents to elect their MP of choice without intereference. That's the purpose. All the changes that have been made recently to electoral law (eg. assistance for disabled voters, easing of the postal voting rules) are about enabling people to vote if they wish.
In no way, shape or form, is that purpose served by preventing queuing people from voting just because it's nominally time for the polls to close*. [the appropriate way to interpret a 10pm closing time is in the way that gives best effect to the purpose of the legislation, not as 10pm = 10pm = 10pm.] In any constituency where the result is close and there are serious allegations that people have been prevented from voting, there is likely to be a legal challenge to the results. Any legal challenge will be costly and will, if there is a doubt over the validity of the election result will cause the election to be rerun at some considerable expense to the tax payer.
This is aside from the personal impact on the people who have been disenfranchised and their righteous anger at this. If it is considered that having an electorate that is politically aware and where people want to get involved in politics, is a good thing for the country, then what message is this sending to people? [No, it is not sending the 'you should have voted at some point earlier in the day' message. If you expect the polls to be open at 9.50pm and arrive at the polling station in good time, then you're right to expect to be able to cast your vote]
* There does need to be a closing time, as once the polls have closed people start publishing exit polls and so on ie. things that aren't allowed during polling because they might influence the result. The correct course of action is to create a holding pen (and to ask that mobile phones etc be handed in) for the queue and then allow them to vote.
Acting Returning Officers are only accountable to the Courts for their actions in their role as AROs. They are usually very senior people within Local Government. They are therefore expected to be people with some degree of experience and used to making complex decisions. They are emphatically not very junior members of staff doing administrative work.
To expect them to make the strategic, quick decision that the polls needed to stay open isn't actually asking all that much of them.
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