AS Pundits feared the lowest ever turnout for a national vote in yesterday’s police and crime commissioner elections across England and Wales, just 14.3% of voters in Gwent turned out to vote.
We sent ANDY RUTHERFORD to Newport and DAVID DEANS out in the rest of Gwent to see whether people were going to the polls.
IN THE window of St Andrew’s Church Hall in Newport, is a banner bearing the legend ‘Bazaar Here Saturday’.
It is to be hoped organisers are rewarded with a bigger turnout than the hall had yesterday, in its role as one of Newport’s 105 polling stations for the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent.
As with many such venues monitored by the Argus, it remained for the most part eerily still.
In the city and across Gwent, large sections of the electorate appeared to have opted out of choosing a candidate to control Gwent Police’s multi-million-pound budget, their enthusiasm for the process seemingly as damp as the weather.
Predictions of an extremely low turnout seemed to have been borne out. Buildings as diverse as a dance studio, a domestic garage, a hair salon, and a number of pubs were pressed into service as polling stations, but a sluggish early response indicated the vast majority of people were in no hurry to, or had no intention of, casting their vote.
By 8.45am, 1hr 45min after opening, just ten votes had been cast at the polling station at Ridgeway community centre, Newport, a situation replicated many times over.
The Argus visited a polling station at Cwmbran Park’s bowls pavilion, but despite being there for the best part of an hour from midday, not a single voter turned up.
Even on the busy University of Wales Newport campus at Caerleon, the polling station area was a monument to inactivity, while just metres away the student union bar was buzzing.
Amongst polling station paraphernalia there is to be found a piece of equipment known as a ballot paper compactor.
Said item resembles a long ruler with rounded ends, used to push ballot papers further into the box to create room for more.
Quite why specialist kit is required for this task is unclear. What is certain is that the ballot paper compactor, yesterday at least, was likely to have been the least used object in Gwent.
The model used at one polling station – Ridgeway community centre, Newport – costs £4.65, excluding VAT.
Assuming the same model was deployed in all venues, that amounts to some £2,200 worth of ballot paper compactors.
It is to be hoped that can be returned, unused, to the manufacturer as it would be a small return at least on the estimated £800,000 of taxpayers’ money it has cost to run the election in Gwent.
Mixed opinions on electoral turnout
CANDIDATES presented a mixed picture of how they saw the turnout yesterday.
Labour’s Hamish Sandison said yesterday afternoon that the turnout was “low”.
However he said the party had seen high turn outs in postal votes – with more than 40 per cent in Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly County Borough, although that was not a final figure.
A key test for Mr Sandison will be whether the core Labour vote came out to support him yesterday.
If not, independent candidates may do well.
Ian Johnston, a former senior police officer, said he had reports of a steady turnout in Monmouth and that it was busy in Oakdale, his home village.
Independent candidate Chris Wright said he was encouraged by voters in Caerphilly who told him they had either made postal votes or were to vote later.
Meanwhile Nick Webb said whoever wins “it is important that there is a bit of a mandate there.”
“I’m not sure that the message has got across especially in terms of how the role will operate,” he added.
Turnout in Blaenau Gwent was 13% of registered voters (6912 people). While across Gwent 14.3% of voters turned out.
‘If you don’t vote, you can’t really complain’
THERE were voters to be found out an about in Gwent, albeit following long waits for signs of action.
Among those who spoke to the Argus, most felt it was their duty to vote, but some were critical of the lack of information available about the poll.
Among the scarce voters in Llanhilleth, John Burton, 70, said he voted for Ian Johnston, who was the only candidate he received literature from.
Doreen Froude, 82, also of Llanhilleth, voted for Labour candidate Hamish Sandison, said there had been nothing on the TV about the election.
Frank Jones, 79, also from the village, said it was “very quiet” in his polling station.
Mr Jones, who plumped for Hamish Sandison for his first preference and Ian Johnston for his second preference, said: “Nobody knows what’s happening.”
One woman, who did not want to be named but who voted in Magor, said she felt she had to vote as she worked for the police.
Judith Hawkins, of Undy, said she thought there needed to be someone who was independent and under the second preference system said she had voted for both the independent candidates.
Pam Podmore, 71, of Magor, liked the idea of a commissioner and had picked Ian Johnston as her first preference, Nick Webb as her second.
She said she normally voted for Labour.
David Williams, who cast his vote at the temporary polling station installed at the Asda store car park in Pill, disagrees with the idea of a police and crime commissioner, but said it is important to have a say.
“We are stuck with them, like it or not, and if you don’t vote, you can’t really complain about how the police spend their money,” he said.