England & Wales, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

And here we go again… behind the scenes of local elections


Photo by Steve Houghton-Burnett on Unsplash

Millions of votes will be cast across the UK tomorrow. From the smallest Parish Council to seats on the Northern Ireland Assembly, every vote counts.

We are fortunate in the UK that electors and candidates alike can take the voting, counting and declaration process for granted. It will all happen as expected, without any fanfare, because electoral administrators just get on with the job.

After running two years’ worth of polls on one day last May, this year’s elections are a little less hectic. But it’s not been business as usual. More like business as usual plus.

As well as their usual months of hard work behind the scenes, Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and electoral administrators have dealt with the continuing effects of the pandemic.

From core teams’ health and working set-up, the recruitment of polling station and count staff and venue availability, Covid-19 continues to be a factor. And with Covid safety measures now a local decision, polling stations and counts may still look a little different in many areas.

And what about other differences across the UK? The Election Office for Northern Ireland is running an all-out Northern Ireland Assembly election, in the calendar year after running their delayed ten-yearly canvass.

Teams in Scotland and Wales have a second year of all-out polls, this time with all principal council seats up for election. 2022 also marks the first year 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales can vote in local elections.

Four council election teams in Wales – in Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Torfaen are running flexible voting pilots. Trialling advance weekend voting, voting in schools, and early voting in areas with historically low turnout. We await the outcomes with interest.

This is also a Mayoral-heavy election year. Voters in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield will elect a South Yorkshire Metro Mayor. Croydon voters will elect their first-ever Mayor, while Bristol electors will decide whether to keep their Mayor in a governance referendum.

Local government reorganisation in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset will see new members of four shadow authorities elected. Over the next year, they will work on setting up new unitary authorities, absorbing existing council services and staff. A huge job ahead.

And as for all the other polls being held across England, whether electing in thirds, halves or all-out, each has its own quirks and issues. Whichever polls Returning Officers and election teams are running, we wish them all the best for a smooth polling day and subsequent count/s.

Looking forward, the Elections Act gained Royal Assent last week. A major change is coming for everyone involved in administering, standing and voting in our elections.

I cannot stress enough how the one council approach to running elections is now vital to add much-needed capacity. Treating elections as a corporate event, and resourcing it accordingly, is the only way our increasingly complex system can be sustained. To minimise risk, local authorities must support their electoral professionals to concentrate on core tasks.

But back to the here and now. Here’s to everyone running these elections. We are all incredibly grateful to you for working so hard to bring us safe and secure polls, with accurate results we know we can trust. Thank you.


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