Thousands of blank ballot papers for the parliamentary and borough elections next Thursday are missing after the van bringing them from the printers to Hastings was stolen.
Almost 250,000 blank papers for voters to fill in when they go to the polls, including the Hastings and Rye parliamentary ballot papers and those for Eastbourne Borough Council’s elections, are missing.
Kevin Boorman, head of communications and marketing at Hastings Borough Council, said: “We have been informed that a van was stolen overnight which contained the polling station ballot papers for the Hastings and Rye constituency – around 72,300 ballot papers.
“We have been in touch with the Electoral Commission and following their guidance, we have put a process into place which will ensure that these ballot papers are not used for fraudulent purposes and cannot be included in the count.
“We have also made arrangements for delivery of further ballot papers.
“The Metropolitan Police have advised us that there is nothing to suggest that the van was stolen because there were ballot papers inside; it seems that it was a coincidence that the stolen van contained ballot papers.”
An Eastbourne council spokesman said the exact details of how the van was stolen or where from remained a mystery but police are investigating.
“We have been informed that the printer’s van delivering the ballot papers for Eastbourne’s parliamentary and borough elections has been stolen along with all the contents,” they said.
“Effectively, this means that all the ballot papers intended for use at polling stations on May 7 are in circulation and in the possession of persons unknown.
“This is, of course, a criminal offence and a police matter.
“We are not yet aware of the details around the theft.
“However, we have to assume that the ballot papers on board the van will not be retrieved and, as a priority, take action as appropriate.
“The two key issues to resolve here are securing a replacement supply of ballot papers to ensure that the election goes ahead and eliminating any chance of electoral fraud by persons seeking to use the stolen ballots.
“The printers will, as a matter of urgency, be producing and delivering a full replacement set of Parliamentary and Borough ballots.
“There will, of course, be a delay in the originally anticipated date of receipt but we are confident that we will have sufficient time to fully check and process the ballots in time for election day.
“On the issue of preventing fraud the original ballot papers were in two distinct colours to differentiate between the parliamentary and borough ballots, the replacement batch will be printed on new distinct colours, again different for the Parliamentary and the borough ballots.
“The new colours have been chosen partly, as time is of the essence, because those colours are in stock at the printers and immediately available, but mostly because they are distinctly different from the original colours used.
“This will mean that if anyone places one of the original ballot papers from the stolen batch in a ballot box on election day, it will be easily detected at the count and removed.
“One unavoidable anomaly is that the previously issued postal vote ballot papers are on the original colours and can be posted or handed in at a polling station right up to close of poll on May 7.
“However, these ballots have to be returned with the associated paperwork and go through a rigorous scanning process separate to the other ballots. They are not placed in ballot boxes at the polling stations.
“We are confident that the above mitigations will be sufficient to ensure the accurate and successful completion of the elections.”