Police are assessing concerns that vox pops of people talking about who they had voted for may have broken electoral law because they were published by a regional Reach news website while polls were still open.
Several entries to an election day live blog and a subsequent story on Hull Live, the website of the Hull Daily Mail, are being assessed to decide whether they contravened Section 66 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.
The reporting named and pictured several members of the public, who told the news website who they had voted for and why, with their comments published while polls were still open for Hull’s local council and Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 6 May.
A story published just before 8pm was headlined “We asked Hull voters which party they backed and why in today’s elections” with the subheading “Voters we spoke to included a Corbyn fan and a frustrated road user”.
The story was subsequently taken down and several entries were deleted from the election day live blog.
Press Gazette understands Hull City Council chief executive and electoral returning officer Matt Jukes referred his concerns to Humberside Police in the belief that, although it was not an official exit poll and different parties were represented by the interviewees, the material should not have been published.
A spokesperson for Humberside Police told Press Gazette: “We are aware of concerns regarding the reporting of the election on 6 May by a local media outlet. This is currently being assessed by officers.”
A council spokesperson declined to comment.
While polls are open the Representation of the People Act 1983 prohibits publication of “any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted”.
Maximum sentencing for breaking this law is six months’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine.
However, guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service states that it may not be in the public interest to go beyond a caution for election law breaches that are not deemed a “major infringement”.
This could apply if, for example, the offence was committed as a result of a “genuine mistake or misunderstanding”, it could not have influenced the electoral process, or the offender has remedied any breach of the law.
Hull Live owner Reach declined to comment.
Picture: PA Media/Claire Hayhurst