Council Write To 'No' Voters Asking Them To Validate Their Votes
4th March 2018
Burgess Hill Town Council have seemingly singled out the 'No' voters while seeking to validate votes as they look to secure public support for a new public performance venue. Have we sunk to a new level of shambolic here?
Multiple people have contacted Burgess Hill Uncovered over the past few days to say that they voted 'No' weeks ago, and have now subsequently received a letter from Burgess Hill Town Council's Corporate Services Manager this weekend which asks them to send an email to one of two addresses to confirm if they did or did not vote online.
These communications have been sent first class, paid for out of your council tax!
Here is the letter (Click to Enlarge)
Burgess Hill Town Council previously said that their online voting system was robust, with measures to check the votes were genuine - this despite communications from BHU and other members of the public, flat out telling the council that it was open to abuse, even explaining exactly how it can be manipulated. Stubborn Burgess Hill Town Council were having none of it though!
The fact they've now started selectively writing to the public proves without a doubt that their process was not up to scratch... and still isn't.
The letter sent to the public is also not without controversy.
With just 5 days to go until the vote closes, what happens if a recipient is now away for a week? They can't respond in time to make their vote count. The letter doesn't actually state that the vote will be discounted if you don't respond though.
Burgess Hill Uncovered are also aware that multiple people from the same household voted online, yet only one named resident from each dwelling received the letter. Does this mean that only one person is under suspicion, or the whole household? If the person written to fails to respond, does it mean that ALL the votes from that address are discounted?
Some might say that it's a clever way to cleanse many 'No' votes. Some people may not bother to reply at all, so if BHTC have contacted more 'No' voters than 'Yes' it could lead to a distorted result (more than it's already possibly heading for.)
We've also checked with some people who voted 'Yes' online. So far we've not found anyone who has received a letter. Interesting.
To see if anyone else has come forward to say if they received a letter having voted Yes or No, then keep checking the post on our facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/burgesshill/posts/1860471417319094
Consultation and Survey? Council let slip that this is a VOTE!!
During this whole process, the council have billed it as a consultation exercise, a chance for the public to have their say.
On their website they reference a 'survey' and a 'consultation' yet the letter sent to people who voted online clearly states: 'You recently used the online form to VOTE in regard to the proposed new community and performance venue.'
BHU have been telling you all along that this was the final vote and not merely an opinion gathering exercise. The council's letter now proves this.
Nowhere on the council's website or on the flyer sent out to the public did it ever say that this was a 'vote'. Was this done deliberately to downplay the significance of the situation in order to detract people from bothering to take part?
It seems to be a speciality of Burgess Hill Town Council to be very vague in their communications during this whole process.
Online Voting Form Conditions Changed AGAIN!!
You couldn't make this up!!! The council have revised their Survey Monkey online VOTING form again - They claimed it was robust, so why the change?
Previously the form only asked for your name, address, confirmation that you are over 18, and then to answer two questions which ask if you want the venue and if you're prepared to pay for it.
The form now states that you must be a council tax payer - Does this exclude 18 year olds still in education that don't contribute to the household bills?
The biggest change is that the form now asks you to provide an email address. Only, this isn't for an automated validation process, no, it's just another data box that the council can use manually.
It also states that you MAY be contacted by email address to validate your vote. It's laughable. Yes, it means the council can save the price of a stamp in writing to you, BUT, anyone can create an email address and claim to be someone they're not. By writing to the person's home address at least you're going to reach the intended recipient. This is so poor.
Also, what is the criteria for who they may contact to validate their votes?
From our limited research, it seems the 'No' voters are being targetted.
In seeking to now manually 'validate' by email, the council have actually made their process weaker!
Are They Writing To People Who Submitted A Paper Vote?
Voting in person with the paper slip is just as open to abuse. What's to stop you printing off hundreds of forms, getting a group of people together and going through the electoral roll, using a variety of handwriting and popping them into the voting box? Are the town council writing to these residents to validate their votes? We believe they are not.
BHU Called For A Referendum
All the way along, BHU had called for an official referendum and even asked for it during the full meeting of Burgess Hill town council in January before the vote began. The cost of running a referendum is tiny compared to the £9.6 millon repayments we'd be facing. So why not ensure a conclusive result not open to challenge?
Advantage Given To Vested-Interest Community Groups Still Not Addressed
One of the biggest aspects as to the fairness of this vote is how Burgess Hill Town Council gave a huge advantage to community groups that want a new venue. The council emailed these groups, requesting their support. Subsequently these groups tapped into their electronic mailing lists, pointing their members to the online voting form.
Joe Public on the other hand, only received a flyer in the post (many claimed not to have received it!) informing them of being able to vote by post (at their own cost) or by returning the slip in person to the Help Point. Yes there was a link on the flyer to the council's website for more information, but it did not state about voting online.
I have challenged council staff and councillors on this issue and they have not given a satisfactory response. I told a councillor that they should be looking to even things up by running a promoted Facebook post which links the public directly to the Survey Monkey voting form. The councillor said he would 'ask' a staff member to do it. I said that it's not about asking, and to tell the staff member to do it. Surprise surprise, a promoted post on Facebook has not materialised.
Public Misled At Drop-In Sessions
Only one councillor out of our 18 elected representatives called for an emergency meeting of the town council to allow a public debate on the consultation process and to answer questions about the proposed new venue. The other 17 refused to back it.
In a watered down effort to tick another box, the project's steering committee held two drop-in sessions at the town council help point on a Saturday morning.
I personally witnessed misinformation being giving to members of the public who put questions to the steering committee.
One person asked who pays if the proposed venue loses money. The non council member of the steering committee refused to say, making excuses. It was only when I stepped in and pointed out that the council have (quietly) already said that WE will foot the bill for the loses. He did then conceed that this was indeed the case.
Another instance was when a councillor flatly denied that the town council offices would be relocating as part of the project. The council do not appear to have written about this major detail in any of their literature, but the plans for the building do show some rooms labled 'council offices' in very small print. Would people be so quick to back a new arts and performance venue if they knew they'd also be paying for the council to have a new home too, thus providing a venue that wouldn't truely belong to the community?
Why Are The Council Claiming To Be Neutral?
The steering committee was created by the council. It consists of councillors and some vested-interest members of the community, hand-picked by the council.
The steering committee want this project to go ahead. They are already speaking like it's a forgone conclusion, stating at a key area group meeting last month 'When we get the new building...' They've even interviewed for a fundraiser and are making plans for the Cyprus Hall community groups.
They are selling the benefits and not telling the public about the potential pitfalls of having such a facility. The wording of their literature appears to be slanted to make people vote 'Yes'.
The Town Council have got very offended by people making comments about how the consultation has been run. They've been throwing legal terms around in the media to put people off from commenting.
Quite simply the town council should be beyond suspicion in the way they conduct themselves. It is perverse that the organisation who created the steering committee are also the ones to carry out the consultation process and to be managing the 'vote'. They are not neutral at all. Refusing to promote the online poll to as many people as possible while happily making all the vested-interest groups aware of it is a prime example of this.
For all the reasons listed throughout this piece, any result 'Yes' or 'No' will be open to challenge.
This has been one big sorry affair for Burgess Hill Town Council.
|Spread the word, the council are vetting online votes for a new community venue, with seemingly a particular interest in those who voted no.
Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
What do you think of the council's latest efforts to 'validate' the vote? Are they neutral in your opinion?