England & Wales, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

And we’re off again – a salute to our persevering electoral officers

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Peter Stanyon is the Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators and a regular LGiU elections contributor.

And we’re off again!!!

I think it’s fair to say that when the Fixed Terms Parliament Act was passed in 2011, there was a collective sigh of relief from electoral administrators that finally, we would be able to plan for electoral events with some degree of certainty.  Oh well, that plan didn’t work, did it?!!!

For the second time this year, the great British public will be going to the polls for unscheduled elections … the European Parliamentary election in May and the forthcoming general election, to be planned for and delivered in just 25 working days.

Those elections in May, coming just three weeks after local elections in many areas, nearly broke many electoral administrators.  But they delivered, yet again with some fantastic support from their local authorities, friends and families.  We made the point that the electoral community cannot be expected to continue to perform miracles and safely deliver elections against the backdrop of the continued pressures local government faces, but here we are again.

They are contending with electoral legislation – some of it one hundred years old – that is becoming ever less compatible with modern expectations and ways of working.  Piecemeal attempts to update it is introducing unnecessary risk and inconsistency between different types of election.

And don’t start us on the issue of money!  Reform of funding and support mechanisms from government is vital.  A significant number of claims made following the last general election … oh, that was unscheduled too … have still to be settled by government and we go into this next poll fully expecting further challenge to the expenses incurred by returning officers.

Let’s not forget this is the first winter election since 1974, the first in December since 1923, so we go into it uncertain as to what to expect.  Yes, there were Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November 2012, which threw up some unexpected challenges, but turnout was extremely low.  That’s unlikely to be the case in December!

Not only are Returning Officers having to contend with the usual logistical challenges elections bring, there’s those that have arisen because of the timing of the poll: the weather … will it be cold, wet, snowy, stormy; the short hours of daylight; the availability of staff; our duty of care to voters; and Nativity plays!  Yes, every electoral administrator is sorry there will be disruption to long-planned events in schools, church halls and community centres but it’s not really the fault of those delivering the election with just six weeks’ notice.  The lengths to which some have gone to avoid disruption is quite remarkable in the circumstances.

So, in the second week of December, the country elects a new government.

Before then, the electoral community will once again have gone the extra mile to take in nominations, book and equip venues, appoint and train thousands of members of staff, print and distribute millions of poll cards and postal voting packs.  And to contingency plan for factors that are not normally an issue in spring or summer elections.

Put simply, over the six week period in which a six month project will be delivered – because that’s how long planning for a scheduled election takes – the electoral community will work massively extended hours, putting their own lives – and yes their own Christmas preparations – on hold, eating on the go, becoming stressed as things don’t go as smoothly as they would like, all because they are a highly professional, committed group of people solely concerned with delivering a safe and trusted election result … which is often taken for granted.

And yes, they will deliver – yet again!  And yes, they deserve our thanks.

They have my total respect.

Founded in 1987, the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) is the professional body representing the interests of electoral administrators in the United Kingdom, working independently of government. Key objectives include fostering the advancement of consistent and efficient administration of electoral processes, raising the profile of electoral administrators and contributing positively to electoral reform.

The AEA has just under 2,000 members, the majority of whom are employed by local authorities to provide electoral registration and election services. It is uniquely placed to comment on the challenges faced by electoral administrators in delivering safe and secure electoral processes to UK citizens.

One thought on “And we’re off again – a salute to our persevering electoral officers

  1. Brilliant article Peter. I’ve been an electoral administrator for nearly 20 years but I am seriously considering a change of career after this election. It’s not the long hours or the weekend work or the extra pressure that’s driven me to contemplate leaving the job I love – I can cope with those! What I can’t cope with is the fact I will miss my son’s 6th birthday because I cannot go on a holiday we planned as a family back in May as it coincides with election week. We’ve had 4 elections already this year and my holiday was booked outside of all planned elections and canvass activity to ensure I would be able to take it – and then this happens. It just leaves me feeling rather numb!

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