England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

May 2nd Elections: all the new rules, new methods and new challenges for electoral staff

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Photo by Arnaud Jaegers on Unsplash

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In this article, Peter Stanyon, Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, addresses the significant changes and consequential preparations underway in local authorities ahead of the May 2nd elections. 

While the 2nd May polls may be taking a backstage in the public limelight due to constant speculation about the general election date – for those involved in running the upcoming elections across local authorities in England and Wales, they are definitely front and centre right now.

This is especially heightened given the amount of change Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and Electoral Administrators are dealing with.

What has changed this year?

While voter ID debuted in England last year, May’s polls are the first time millions of electors will need to show photo ID to vote in many areas – including Wales, London, Bristol and Birmingham. Many may also consider applying for a free Voter Authority Certificate.

On the 2nd of May, voters will also use the first-past-the-post method to elect Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) and Mayors. This replaces the previously well-established first-choice/second-choice supplementary vote system.

What is a Police and Crime Commissioner?

Absent voters can now apply for a postal or proxy vote online rather than using a paper form, with an added identity check. As is often the case with digital change, the front end works well, but back office integration is less so.

Since online absent vote applications launched in October 2023, iterative work from the Government Digital Service has begun to improve things. However, the end-to-end tested system—which would significantly reduce time and resource pressure on already thinly stretched election teams—is still to be delivered.

Postal vote rules also change from 2nd May. Campaigners may no longer handle postal votes apart from those from their immediate household/family, or through their employment.

In addition, anyone dropping off postal votes to polling stations or council offices may only hand in a limited number and will have to fill in a new declaration form. No more pop in to drop in.

Finally, in polling stations, the new Ballot Secrecy Act makes it a criminal offence to be in or near a polling booth and attempt to influence another person “to vote in a particular way or refrain from voting.” Election teams will be at pains to make it very clear this does not stop voters with disabilities from bringing a companion to their polling station to help them.

Many of these points also represent changes for polling station staff in how they run processes and interact with voters. This requires additional training and there are concerns these additional tasks (especially voter ID) may affect community-based volunteers’ feelings about taking on these increasingly complicated roles. Let’s not forget this is on top of the already complicated processes these volunteers are expected to deliver.

The impact of voter ID: the views of administrators

While all election teams are dealing with these issues, there are also area-specific changes. In London, hand counting will replace previous electronic count systems used to tally votes, a significant difference in how counts are run.

What is the London Assembly?

With final legislation passed in recent months, a clutch of new Combined Authority Mayors will also be elected for the first time, requiring close collaboration across regional areas. In the West Midlands, both mayoral and PCC elections are due to run after legal action—which ran up until days before the election commenced—halted plans to combine both roles.

What is a Combined Authority?

Election teams are also alert to the fact counts must finish by 23:59 on 6 May. This is to avoid potential issues from changes to EU citizen candidacy and voting rights that take effect from 7 May.

Comment

With so much change to contend with, we have everything crossed these polls run with as few issues as possible. Learning lessons and sharing good practices from this experience will be crucial ahead of the general election.

As Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and Electoral Administrators continue to work behind the scenes in preparation for 2nd May, we send our thanks to them all for their ongoing dedication and professionalism.

Curious about what happens at an election count or looking for other answers to your local elections-related questions? Check out our Local Elections 101 page for more insights



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