07/06/2016 18:23 BST | Updated 07/06/2016 20:51 BST

EU Referendum Count Chaos As Electoral Commission Computers Crash Three Times In Practice Run

It is the latest blunder by the Commission

Anthony Bradshaw via Getty Images

Fears the result of the EU Referendum could be marred by chaos have been sparked by repeated computer crashes during an official count practice run, HuffPost UK can reveal.

The Electoral Commission carried out a Referendum night rehearsal two weeks ago ahead of the country going to the polls on June 23, but it was marred by significant technical glitches. 

The Commission was forced to restart its entire counting system three times in as many hours as the technology failed to keep up demand.

Pressure is now on the Commission to get rid of the bugs in the system before June 23, when more than 44million people could turn out to vote.

It is another blunder the Commission has to deal with, as last week polling cards were incorrectly sent out by councils to thousands of EU nationals not eligible to vote in the referendum.

It was also forced to tell Bristol Council to tear up official advice on how people should fill in their postal votes, after guidance showed a pencil hovering over the Remain box on a ballot paper.

An email sent to Returning Officers by Commission chairperson Jenny Watson and top director Andrew Scallen outlined the difficulties faced during the rehearsal, carried on from 9pm to 12am on May 24.

The email, seen by the Huff Post UK, said:  “When all users lost connection to the results collation system, we were able to resolve this by restarting the servers that were causing the problem and we apologise for the inconvenience that this caused.

“Fortunately, we had the system developer on site with us in Manchester and he was able to diagnose the problem as it happened.

“We were unable to put an immediate fix in place without taking the system down for an unacceptable period of time and the most efficient way of dealing with it on the night was to do a system restart when the problem occurred, as it did on three occasions.”

The email went on to say that the Commission would be carrying out a “further analysis” of the problem ahead of the vote in 15 days time.

Andy Wigmore, a spokesman for Brexit-campaign Leave.EU told the Huff Post UK: “We lost confidence in the Electoral Commission a long time age.

“This is just the latest installment in a litany of incompetence, from ballot papers being issued to people without a vote to postal vote guidance suggesting a Remain vote.

“If the Leave campaign had attempted to pull the stunts the In side have there would have been hell to pay, but the EC is turning a blind eye.”

According to official guidance, the Commission is aiming to announce the final result of the Referendum around “breakfast time” on Friday June 24, after all 382 local counts have declared.

The earliest declarations are expected to be in Sunderland and Wandsworth, with both expected at 12.30am on Friday June 24.

The national result event will be held in Manchester.

As part of the rehearsal, the Commission used data from other referendums carried out across the UK.

Counters in England and Northern Ireland were asked to input figures from the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum; in Scotland to use the 2014 independence referendum; and in Wales to replicate the 2011 Assembly powers referendum.

“We understand that this may have caused some confusion but we were obviously keen not to test the system with the actual question and responses in order to minimise the risk that this could have been taken to indicate any views on the referendum or to call any of our impartiality into question in any way,” said Watson and Scallen in the email.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “The reason for rehearsing significant events such as the EU Referendum results collation system is to identify potential issues ahead of the day itself. Our rehearsal event allowed us to test the system, we identified issues to resolve, and we’re confident that the system will deliver on the night.”