As the venerable Labour member Hugh McAllion stood down, there were two vacancies here, so voters could cast up to two votes. Shouldn't be a challenge to get right - two years ago, every ward had three votes to deal with. Only too predictably for Birmingham, the elections team here cocked up massively and miscounted the votes. The declared result showed over 12,000 votes cast - but only 4981 votes were issued, so only 9962 votes COULD have been genuinely cast and some of those would only have a single vote anyway. The upshot was that Zoe Hopkins, a visitor round these parts occasionally, was declared as a winner alongside the lovely Sharon Ebanks from the BNP.
For those who don't understand the count, the first thing that is done is that the number of votes actually in the ballot boxes is tallied with the number of voting papers issued. This is done under the eagle eyes of the party counting agents, who are actually gathering essential polling data at this point. Only after those numbers tally are the votes piled up for individuals. Multiple votes makes the counting process more complex, as a surprising number of voters don't back a single party, but can spread their votes across the choices. Eventually, all the figures are tied together on a single sheet and all the numbers should add up. There was no way that 5000 votes could add up to over 12,000, so I genuinely find it hard to understand how a mistake of this magnitude could occur.
The only more amazing thing is that this blindingly-obvious error cannot be simply corrected. As the result was legally declared, one of the candidates has to go to the High Court to have the result overturned (Labour's Cath Grundy is on the case and the papers will go in very quickly). In the meantime, the BNP have a duly-elected member on Birmingham City Council who can claim her allowances and everything else due to her as a councillor. Ms Ebanks claims that she won 'fair and square' and that anything that happened after the result was declared is irrelevant. How she can possibly believe that, unless her maths education was severely lacking, is beyond belief. The 4932 figure has been checked at least twice under scrutiny. The BNP suggest that some of their votes were removed. If that is the case, then there will be fewer than 4932 ballot papers in the storage boxes, which will show up when the court reviews the petition.
Naturally, the BNP won't let the facts get in the way of a good story. They claim that the check disproportionately affected their vote, which it did, but there is an entirely valid explanation for it. Most people vote for the party slate, so they will generally cast two votes for Labour, LD or Tory. There is a substantial minority that will spread their vote around, but it isn't a huge number, so something around 10% for each of the Labour candidates seems reasonable to me. The BNP and other independent solo candidates know that they rely on their votes going nowhere else, so will encourage their voters to cast just a single vote. Double counting of those cases will therefore lead to their vote almost doubling - which it does. If you look at the 'real' result, you will see a slight reduction in each of the vote for the main party candidates, but a massive reduction in the solo candidates - one independent exactly halves his vote. The rest are all closely banded together.
The claim by the BNP that their candidate suffered the largest loss in vote is only true numerically. In percentage terms, the Greens and the NF candidate suffered far more.
This was a cock-up, pure and simple. The other parties should have spotted it as well - keeping an eye on the maths is a simple check against these kind of errors, but responsibility has to rest with the City Council and I hope that they will be prepared to fund the expense of an electoral petition for the sake of democracy.
The biggest disaster of this is the propaganda value of the BNP victory. No matter what the legal technicalities of the matter, this will be portrayed as an attempt to rig the result to keep the BNP out of Birmingham. In the world of the fascists, reality is far less important than the rumours, whispers and lies that feed their prejudices and provide a basis of hatred for their twisted politics.
My only fear is that the court will order a rerun of the election. In that case, I'm certain the BNP will throw everything they have into winning the seat and I doubt that the Birmingham Labour Party will let that happen - I know I'll be over there to help out.
It could yet be a long, hot summer in Kingstanding.