We had Biscuitgate, Pizzagate, results leaked early, hundreds of votes going uncounted and ballot boxes unopened.
Last year’s general election was certainly not without controversy.
Now a select committee investigation into the operation and organisation of the 2016 general election has published its findings and no fewer than 15 recommendations which will go before next week’s Tynwald sitting.
Curiously it has little to add to the most serious incident that took place - when 103 ballots papers went uncounted in Ayre and Michael, a mistake that was discovered by candidate Louise Whitelegg after the result was declared. It did not affect the election result.
The report includes the results of the inquiry by the Acting Attorney General, who found the discrepancy was the result of human errors and the returning officer Simon Cain not having a robust process in place for reconciling the number of ballots presented and counted.
He also concluded that the returning officer had acted unlawfully when he subsequently opened sealed ballots to find out what had gone wrong - but decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute him. The select committee report makes no further comment except to repeat the AG’s comment that his ’decision making must necessarily be free from external pressures of influence, political or otherwise’.
A counting error in Garff did change the result - but the discovery of 25 bundles of votes in two unopened ballot boxes was made before the declaration.
These uncounted votes propelled candidate Daphne Caine after a recount from third into second place, securing her a seat in the House of Keys.
The select committee concluded the issue in Garff was less serious than that in Ayre and Michael and is likely it would have been picked up even if there hadn’t been call for a recount. ’However, the returning officer should have checked the figures before giving even provisional results to the candidates,’ it adds.
In Douglas East, the results of the election were announced on the BBC website before they had been announced. The committee recommends there should be complete radio silence from the count.
Witnesses told the select committee that they were surprised by the timing of the refreshment breaks taken by the staff at counts - a situation that came to be dubbed ’Pizzagate’.
Ayre and Michael candidate Mrs Whitelegg said after the ballot boxes were opened, the returning officer asked everybody to leave the room for ’pizza and Chelsea buns’, leaving just a few people in the room. Winning candidate Alfred Cannan said he was separated from sight of the ballots for about 20 minutes - then half an hour after the count began, the counting team disappeared for pizza.
Returning officer Mr Cain insisted a presiding officer had stayed with the ballots during the short break.
The committee report concludes staff should be refreshed before the count begins.
Ahead of the election Onchan candidate Rob Callister offered tea and biscuits to constituents at a public meeting.
After this was queried, he contacted the Cabinet Office and was told to seek legal advice as a breach of the rules on treating could result in a fine or even imprisonment.
The UK Electoral Commission states that treating requires a corrupt intent and does not apply to ordinary hospitality. The select committee recommends that The Cabinet Office should issue guidance to candidates.
Among its 15 conclusions, the select committee suggests that guidance for returning officers should be developed by the Law Society in
consultation with experienced returning officers. That guidance should cover a standardised approach to counting, the use of mobile phones within the ncount, and staff refreshments throughout polling day.