FOR hour after hour, polling stations stood empty across the region as voters failed to show in the first ever Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
The Government’s handling of the vote has been branded a “comedy of errors” by experts as just one in five people are predicted to have turned out to vote yesterday.
In the North East, the Electoral Reform Society believe 18.5% went to the polls for the Northumbria Police and Durham Constabulary commissioners – making it the lowest ever turnout for an election in peacetime.
Katie Ghose, the Electoral Reform Society’s chief executive, said: “The Government appears to have run an experiment in how low it could drive voter turnout.
“Polling stations across Northumbria and Durham stood empty because voters knew next to nothing about the role or the candidates they were expected to chose from.
“The Home Office have operated on the assumption that ‘if you build it they will come’. Democracy doesn’t work that way.
“The case for PCCs was not made by Government, and by refusing to provide a mail-shot candidates were denied the opportunity to make their case to voters.
“The Government has succeeded in turning its own flagship policy into farce.”
In the most radical shake-up of the service for half-a-century, the new commissioners, who are expected to earn up to £100,000, will control police budgets, set priorities and have the power to hire and fire chief constables.
The winners of the election are expected to be announced this afternoon.
In Northumbria, Conservative representative Phil Butler, Labour’s Vera Baird, Alistair Baxter of UKIP and Peter Andras, Lib Dem went head-to-head.
While in Durham Labour’s Ron Hogg, UKIP’s Mike Costello, independent Kingsley Smith and Nick Varley, Conservative, were vying for the job.
A Labour party source based in the North East said: “Early indications are that it is an extremely low turnout and polling stations haven’t been very busy.
“It was the Government’s flagship policy and there hasn’t been enough information out there for people.
“People are saying they didn’t know about the election or who the candidates were.”
Journal reporters at polling stations right across the region yesterday noted that just a handful of voters trickled through the doors.
At Gosforth Parish Church Hall in Newcastle, just 12 voters turned up in a three-hour period. In Durham, 50 people voted in six hours at the cathedral’s polling station and at Hexham Community Centre in Gilesgate, a two-hour survey showed only 13 people went to the polls.
Meanwhile in Heworth, Gateshead there was no sign of a post work rush to vote – in fact no real inclination to vote at all – as only around 30 people had turned up to Heworth Grange Comprehensive School in the first 12 hours the polling station was open.
Many passers-by said they simply did not know enough about what a police commissioner would do, or the people who want to do it, to be confident making their choice.
“I don’t want to waste my vote,” said mum-of-two Suzanne Richardson, 35, from Windy Nook, “but I’d feel like a fraud if I did because I don’t know enough about it.”
Administrator Bob Robinson, 59, from nearby Sunderland Road Villas, who did vote, said he only knew about the candidates because he’d Googled it the night before.
“There’s been nothing through about it and it’s been very poorly advertised,” he said. “I didn’t really have a clue who was standing until I went on the internet and searched for details.”
People also reported being confused about the implications of having a first and second choice.
Turnout figures for Northumbria and Durham will be confirmed later today but are expected to have sunk far lower than this year’s mayoral election in Newcastle, when the turnout was just 31.9 %.
Election experts believe turnout figures released later today will be the lowest ever recorded for a UK election – sinking lower than the peacetime record of 23% for the EU Parliamentary election in 1999.