A mistake did mean a town with a voting population of around 6,400 did have an election where 41,000 votes were counted

28th Jan 2020

Claim

A town with a voting population of less than 7,000 had 41,000 votes counted in a local election. This was then overturned by the High Court.

Conclusion

This is true—a mistake in the local council elections led to this happening in Highworth, Wiltshire in May 2019.

A claim that a town with fewer than 7,000 registered voters, but which counted 41,000 votes in its local election, and thus had the vote overturned by the High Court, has been shared thousands of times on Facebook. The screenshot of the claim shared on Facebook comes from a tweet posted in December 2019 that has also been shared thousands of times.

The claim is true. Highworth, Wiltshire had a voting population of 6,408, and only 2,477 ballots were issued for the May 2019 election of the town council. However, 41,939 votes were counted after the polls closed, with the 10 Conservative candidates standing for election receiving over 3,000 votes each.

Local independent candidate Keith Smith filed a legal challenge, arguing that this occurred because of block votes for the Conservative party being counted for each of the party’s candidates, rather than split between them.

Block voting is a system used in some English counties for council elections when there are multiple vacant seats. During the 2019 vote in Highworth, there were 15 seats and 19 candidates, 10 of which stood for the Conservative party.

A person voting in this election could cast a ‘block vote’ meaning all of their votes would be cast for the same party. If they used their block vote for the Conservatives, 10 votes would be allocated to the Conservatives giving one vote per candidate. According to reports, 265 block votes for the Conservatives were cast, meaning the 10 Conservative candidates should have received 265 votes each. But an error led to this being multiplied by 10, meaning they received 2,650 each.

Once the result of an election has been announced the only way to challenge it is to begin legal proceedings. In his election petition to the High Court, Keith Smith stated: “The Returning Officer has apologised and publicly admitted that an error has been made but advised that she is unable to perform a recount of the ballot papers, without an Order from this Court.”

The High Court overturned the result, and a recount was held, which led to Conservative candidate Pauline Webster stepping down after receiving fewer votes than another independent candidate, Kim Barber. 

Swindon Borough Council said: "We have carried out a thorough lessons learned exercise in the wake of May's local elections to ensure this does not happen again." 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as true because 41,000 votes were counted for a town with a voting population of less than 7,000. 

Correction 3 February 2020

We added a line to this article to include the fact that an error led to the 265 votes for Conservative candidates becoming 2,650. We also included more information about why the case went to the High Court.

We aim for our fact checks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.

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