Campaigners say narrow ‘win’ for council in vote to demolish housing achieved by means electoral services company said should not be used, while measures it recommended to enfranchise members were ignored
Earlier this month, Skwawkbox reported on Haringey council – a ‘Labour’-run council – doorstepping and misleading residents in order to try to win a ballot of residents on the future of their council housing in Tottenham’s Love Lane. A ‘yes’ vote would mean the demolition of their homes to make room for what campaigners against the development say will be more London gentrification.
Residents had reported being guided by the door-to-door council officers to complete votes in favour of demolition.
Last week, on 7 September, Haringey Council announced the result of the ballot: 113 Yes, 90 No, on a 69.4% turnout.
But campaigners have raised objections to the conduct of the ballot by Haringey Council because of the ‘severe pressure’ on residents to vote for the council’s scheme, including the ‘Vote Collection’ (and completion) strategy, with officers asking residents to vote in front of them on the doorstep, and even taking ballot papers away with them – in what was supposed to be a 100% postal vote. Because of these pressure tactics, they believe that the ballot process did not meet the ‘required democratic standard of permitting unfettered voter choice, without landlord interference or intimidation’.
And it seems that ballot administration company CES (Civica, formerly known as Electoral Reform Services) agrees with them.
Civica has written a letter to campaigners that includes a highly revealing paragraph:
The Council sought our guidance and advice in relation to the door-step collection of ballot papers by their officers or representatives. We advised, in writing, against this practise [sic] – noting that they should encourage or promote the use of the alternative voting channels (telephone or online) if accessing a post-box was an issue.
Campaigners have asked London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is funding the scheme with £91 million in public money, to initiate an independent review of the conduct of the ballot, with a similar request to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, the Cabinet minister responsible for the conduct of local authorities, including housing functions. The call for an independent review has been initiated by the Love Lane Temporary Accommodation Group (TAG), who tweet @TAGLoveLane.
The demolition is part of a huge gentrification scheme which would allow public land to be sold off to the developer Lendlease – already associated with one controversial, ultimately abandoned scheme by the Labour-right-run council – to build 860 unaffordable ‘market sale’ homes at Love Lane, and would also drive up local house prices, market housing rents and local retail costs.
Campaigners have provided six case studies which illustrate their concerns about the ballot:
Cases one and two
A ‘vote NO’ Canvasser states:
I was informed by two tenants separately, just a few minutes apart at one of the tower blocks, that officers had called on them three at a time on Saturday evening asking for ballot papers. Both told a very similar story, but they were very different households and I am certain that these reports were given to me quite independently of one another. The officers had asked people to fill their ballot paper in and let the officers take it away with them. One voter explained how he had gone along with this, he was an older easy-going man who did not seem too concerned about it. The other affected resident, on the next floor down, told me how he had refused to co-operate with the officers’ suggestion.
A respondent commented that two officers had helped her to vote yes, at their initiative and not hers. The two officers visited and went into her flat, then asked her to vote (meaning vote yes). One of the officers got their phone out and dialled the balloting number but it didn’t go through properly. So the tenant got her landline and did it in front of them. It was automated on the keypad, so there was no need to speak. The officers were present when the respondent voted. The respondent says she didn’t fully understand what she was voting on, she didn’t understand it properly.
A respondent had already voted Yes, because officers had come round the previous week. Officers asked to take the completed ballot away and respondent gave the ballot paper to officers. The respondent says the Council normally deals with her husband, not her.
A respondent said that council officers came round and knocked the door several times. He did not answer it but looked through the spy hole. Officers came two at a time, applying pressure and knocking – and also phoned him five times and left voice messages. He accidentally answered the phone as he thought it was his friend, but it was again the council officers and they asked if they could come round and collect the vote. He didn’t agree to that, but voted online instead, saying he didn’t trust the council.
A canvasser states:
A respondent was hostile and shouting at me from behind the door. I said I am not the Council, I am from Haringey Defend Council Housing. They then opened the door and apologised. I said no apology needed. I understand their anger, which confirms my belief that residents were being harassed. The respondent then referred to Council officers knocking on the front door at 8pm and wanting to know which way they were voting. The resident said they had told them, “I should not be doing it in front of you”. The resident added – they were trying to force me. And – If I vote now, you will know how I vote.
The full email from CES reads:
From: Simon Clarke
Sent: 13 September 2021 16:23
Cc: Sonali Campion
Subject: Love Lane Estate Regeneration Ballot – CES response to your email of 10 09 2021
Many thanks for your email to support-CESvotes@civica.co.uk of Friday 10 September about the recent Love Lane Estate Regeneration Ballot, for which Civica Election Services (CES) were appointed as the Independent Scrutineer.
As you may be aware the role of the appointed Independent Scrutineer encompasses the secure administration of the entire ballot process; directly mailing the ballot paper to residents, receiving and counting their votes (via multi-channel response methods; – post, online and telephone) verifying the result and issuing the report of voting. In addition, as the Independent Body CES provides advice on the ballot process, relevant legislative requirements, and best practice to ensure that the Council is following the GLA requirements for Estate Regeneration Ballots.
The Council sought our guidance and advice in relation to the door-step collection of ballot papers by their officers or representatives. We advised, in writing, against this practise – noting that they should encourage or promote the use of the alternative voting channels (telephone or online) if accessing a post-box was an issue.
You will also be aware that CES staff members visited the Estate on the afternoon of Thursday 9 September. We visited all properties that had not cast a vote at that stage to ensure that they had received the postal ballot pack and were aware of the election close date. Any resident that was either not in or perhaps did not wish to answer the door was left a “Sorry we missed you” communication which noted what to do in the event that they had not received the ballot paper (or subsequent postal reminder) or required further information in how they could cast their vote (should they wish to cast one). We also confirmed to residents that voting or not voting was entirely their choice. A small number of residents claimed non-receipt/lost/destroyed ballot papers and we were able to issue replacement voting papers and reply envelopes at that point. We were also made aware that a small number of residents wished to hand deliver their sealed voting envelopes directly to us during this exercise. The locations were noted by us and votes placed in the mobile ballot box.
CES takes seriously the concerns raised and will investigate credible evidence presented where required to discharge our role as the Independent Body. It is worth noting that during the ballot process, CES did not receive substantive complaints, either via the support phone number or email or when CES representatives undertook door-knocking, although some residents did express fatigue at the regularity of door-knocking on both sides of the campaign. We can be contacted directly by the respondents’ that you detailed in your email and we will happily look into any concerns that they raise with us in confidence.
Today we sent a postal communication to the residents of the result of voting that was issued to the Council by CES last Tuesday. This is not an additional verification of the result but is in line with electoral best practise in these types of votes.
Commercial and Relationship Manager
Representatives of the Haringey Defend Council Housing campaign will appear on Socialist Telly tomorrow evening from 8pm. Haringey Council has been invited to participate.
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