England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Thank you to electoral staff

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Image: Adam Webb via istock

A mix of council, mayoral, PCC and London Assembly elections means that voters are going to the polls in every part of England and Wales today. That we are able do so – that there are thousands of staffed polling stations waiting for us, that many of us have received a requested postal or proxy vote, that we have the ID required to vote, and so much more –  is thanks to months of work by local government electoral staff.

Between 7am and 10pm, we can exercise our democratic right to vote and the importance of all those candidates putting themselves forward for election today is clear – they are the lifeblood of our local democracy.

But often overlooked is just how much our democracy depends, in a very practical way, on local government staff. All elections – local, national, referendums – are delivered by local government staff. And this essential service – perhaps the one on which all others depend – is overstretched and under-resourced.

Over the past month, we have heard from our friends at the Association of Electoral Administrators about what it takes to run elections. The months of work that goes into preparing for election day, the added pressure of significant changes and challenges introduced this year and the constant state of alert that the electoral community is in, waiting for a general election that could come with minimum warning.

Work last year by LGIU’s Local Democracy Research Centre found that running elections is becoming more stressful, that communicating election rules is becoming more difficult, and that organising snap elections is a severe challenge, alongside ongoing concerns among administrators about voter turnout.

And, as this briefing for LGIU members makes clear, abuse levelled at electoral staff is on the rise worldwide and we cannot ignore the corrosive nature of this threat to our democracy.

In this year of elections, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to electoral staff. Free and fair elections for all levels of government are the foundations on which democratic society rests. Organising polling days is a hugely complex and labour-intensive job, and without the dedication of electoral staff – often under increasingly difficult circumstances – democracy could not function properly. But of course, our gratitude is not enough, and we must do everything we can to ensure that electoral workers are resourced, supported and respected, so they can continue to deliver this vital service.



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