Complaints have been made by a number of party members in the London and South East regions that they have not received ballot papers. Other regions may also be affected.
The number of disenfranchised members is believed to be significant, and includes at least one candidate in a selection contest, one member of a party federal committee and some senior figures from local government. A membership database error is the suspected cause.
Challenges to the results of these selection contests are likely from disgruntled candidates, because only a handful of votes could separate them from a life in Brussels and Strasbourg. In the previous round of selection contests (before the 2009 Euro-elections), incumbent MEPs tended to rack up around 90% of the first preference votes, with the remaining candidates separated by relatively few votes. The party returned only one MEP in each English Euro-constituency in 2009 (apart from the two in the South East), but coming second or third remains crucial, since this determines who will replace any sitting MEP who resigns (as has happened in the current parliament in both the West Midlands and Yorkshire & Humber).
There is added spice to this year’s selection contests in the North East and South East, where incumbent MEPs Fiona Hall and Sharon Bowles are not restanding. Rebecca Taylor is also not restanding in Yorkshire & Humber, but there is now another incumbent, former Tory Edward McMillan-Scott, who is likely to be a shoo-in for top place on the Liberal Democrat list.
This latest ballot paper cock-up follows on from a previous one a few weeks ago in the elections for the party’s federal committees. The party experimented with electronic voting, but some conference representatives have complained that they were effectively disenfranchised because they were not told that they had to apply if they wished to receive a hard copy ballot instead. Whatever the validity of these complaints, many people who were expecting ballot papers in the post did not receive them. It may be that a database error similar to that in the Euro-selections is the cause.
In both these sets of elections, there remains some confusion about what went wrong and why. But whatever the cause, the Liberal Democrats cannot afford this sort of mistake if they wish to remain the party of electoral and constitutional reform.
POSTSCRIPT: On Thursday morning, Mark Pack reports on Liberal Democrat Voice:
The original deadline for returning ballots was Wednesday 28 November. However, a problem which resulted in around 550 party members being missed out by mistake from the original ballot mailings has been identified and ballot papers have been posted out to them by first class post earlier in the week (along with first class freepost return envelopes).
In addition, the return deadline for all ballots has been extended to noon, Friday 30 November.