England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance, HR, workforce and communications, Technology

One week to the locals


Photo Credit: rexboggs5 Flickr via Compfight cc

It’s just one week to go to the 2018 local elections and we’re super excited. There are a lot of exciting races next week as we’ve highlighted in our Ones to Watch guide.  As usual, we’ll be covering the local elections results overnight via our live blog and until the last result is in and doing a pretty good job of it if I do say so myself.

But in the years that I’ve been working with LGiU, there’s one important thing that’s been missing, the one thing I’ve been itching to do and that’s produce ward level elections results as open data.

That would mean that we could go a layer beneath our existing view of council political control.

To understand what percentage of people were voting, say…Conservative at the last election and how they’ve just voted  -come a week or so as soon as the results are in – we really need ward level results. (Read more about how useful ward level data can be here in a blog post from Anna Powell-Smith at Flourish).

Typically it takes a while for these results to filter through into useable data. However, if councils were to publish their election results data straight away in an open and useable format, it would make life so much easier for data journalists and local journalists and everyone who wants to understand how communities are changing and changing who makes decisions on their behalf.

This week I’ll be writing to London electoral services officers and CIOs to ask them for data when it’s ready. It would be amazing if all councils could publish data in an open format as speedily and accurately as they publish hard-to-work-with PDFs and we’ll make an attempt to produce a ward level map for London – just as a demonstrator. If you’re interested in helping us out, please sign up to our elections mailing list.

If you’re working with either the communications or elections data this year check our our free guide to elections comms which explains how you can take simple steps to make it easier for citizens to find out important democratic information.

Leave a light on for democracy!

I was raised to have a lot of democracy heroes and to respect the sacrifice that they have made to ensure that we all have the freedom to choose who represents us. Typically, we’ve honoured soldiers – those who gave all – who have helped preserve liberty. But I had other heroes, too. People like Millicent Fawcett who helped us achieve full enfranchisement and who was just honoured with a statue in Parliament Square as well as Emmeline Pankhurst and Americans who fought for women’s suffrage like Susan B. Anthony and the former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. (And there are so many more who could be mentioned.)

In recent years though I’ve realised that many, many more people play a role in supporting local democracy, and though the sacrifice is not as great, they deserve a bit of recognition, too. Certainly people like our friends at Democracy Club, but also the many, many hardworking people in councils who make elections happen.

Peter Stanyon, Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA), has written about this for us previously, such as last year when electoral officers were preparing for both local elections and for a surprise general.

The pressure on electoral administrators is unceasing, and it is true to say that even going into this round of elections many of them remain “punch drunk” from the events of the last couple of years: the introduction of individual electoral registration, the May 2016 elections, the EU referendum, an intensive electoral registration canvass, the spectre of boundary reviews, the May 2017 elections and, out of the blue, another high profile national poll.

The misconception of a huge machinery administering the electoral process prevails. Yes, local authorities do provide support to administer the electoral process, but with the public finances under continual strain and the availability of resources reducing, it falls once again to quite junior and low-paid staff to pull the rabbit out of the hat and continue to deliver safe and secure elections. The personal cost is, as a result, understandably high.

And the year before…

When you drive past your local town hall or civic centre late at night and see a light burning, you can bet your bottom-dollar it’ll be the Electoral Services Team delivering democracy. Dedication and personal commitment are the order of the day and if there’s one group of local authority workers who deserve recognition, respect and, at these stressful times, understanding, it’s them.

Peter Stanyon was also interviewed for our election special podcast and it’s well worth a listen to hear about how important pencil sharpeners to elections or what an electoral officer might be doing buying chains and padlocks in the middle of the night.  Whether paid staff or volunteers, candidates or journalists – all of those who keep our democracy ticking over – deserve a bit of a hand.