Behind the Scenes: 2019 General Election
During this election, I hope to write a weekly blog or update to show what happens behind the scenes of a local authority.
I will say this is just the authority I work for, each and every Electoral Services team will have individual pressures, concerns and different problems. I do not want to state we all face the same issues and this blog will not cover them all.
Before joining an Electoral Services team, I presumed elections just happened. You turn up at your polling station one day a year, get your ballot paper, put in the box and leave. Not once did I realise the amount of work, the hours and the stress that elections cause. Especially if we have an unscheduled national election, or two unscheduled elections in 6 months.
What frustrates me and many other electoral administrators is the idea, that elections can just happen. Teams can just deliver an election with a few weeks notice and that the public just expect that to happen. Unlike other major projects, we can’t request an extension, we can’t just say it’s not do-able, they have to be delivered.
Week One: 30th October to 6thNovember
Like most electoral administrators, we watched the House of Commons pass legislation to hold an early parliamentary general election on December 12th. Finally, after months and weeks of speculation, we could begin to prepare. We already had some plans in place, but without a date, there isn’t much we can do to prepare.
Wednesday morning (30th November) was met with an enormous amount of emails, phone calls and online applications from the previous day. You could see the correlation of the moment the House passed the Bill with an upsurge of online applications to register to vote. The government also announced as part of the motion that the bank holiday in Scotland would not count as a dias non in registration and application deadlines. This meant we had to first wait for clarification as to what the timetable was before we could publish it and advise electors on when those deadlines were.
The immediate task is to book the polling stations, we rang all 93 that we cover and got a confirmation of all but 1 by the weekend. I visited two potential stations in the district as our usual stations were unavailable. This meant valuable time out of the office! Luckily the final one confirmed on Monday 4th Nov meaning we could go ahead and start to build the election on our software. This is the physical creation of the election such as what type it is, how many seats are there, who is eligible to vote, which people are in which constituency.
The next task was to publish the new 2020 Register. At this time of the year, Election teams are carrying out their annual canvass of electors with a view of publishing a new register on December 1st. We had to cut our canvass a month short and publish on November 1st. This meant we could get data to the poll card printers so they could be printed and sent off!
All the while we have hundreds of postal and proxy vote applications to process, applications to register to vote to sort, letters to send, phone calls answered and election staff to contact and all other arrangements to make.
It’s been a crazy first week!
Week 2: 7th to 13th November
Thursday morning saw the delivery of the Writ of the Election. This is a fantastic and exciting moment as Returning Officers receive official notification of the election in their constituency or constituencies. The writ is issued by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery on behalf of the Queen to formally request an election is held for a Member of Parliament. It gets delivered in a blue envelope and is collected on the day after the election. The Returning Officer will write the name of the elected member on the back of the writ so it can be given back to officials in the House of Commons.
The delivery of the writ meant that the following day, we could publish the notice of election. This is official notification from the local authority and the Returning Officer of the election. It also gives other information around the delivery of nomination papers and other deadlines.
The next working day after publishing the notice of election, the Returning Officer is able to start receiving nominations from candidates. For a general election, candidates and agents are able to deliver papers and it is only a very short window. For our authority, nominations were taken by the Deputy Returning Officer only and in pre-arranged appointments in a private office.
Aside from this, teams will still be inundated with calls, emails and enquiries about the election. We were able to get our Poll Cards sent out this week which means it will generate even more inquiries about the election. We are getting hundreds of applications to register to vote daily and hundreds of postal and proxy applications which means we had to recruit extra help to process them.
Meanwhile, all of our polling station staff have been appointed and contacted with their offers. But work will continue to allocate staff for postal votes, the count and those who drop out of their positions.
Like many teams, the exhaustion has started to set in. Many electoral teams probably haven’t recovered from having to run local elections and then European elections 3 weeks later at very short notice. With this period also normally being the canvass, there hasn’t been time to stop, rest and recover before being thrown into a general election.
What has been telling this week, is the vast lack of knowledge the general public have around elections. One reason for writing this blog is the hope someone can learn a little bit more. Many people just can’t understand that in a snap election, things will be delayed. Poll cards are sent a little later than we would have liked too because we have to confirm stations first. We can’t send you out a postal vote right now, because we haven’t closed nominations for candidates yet. And no, you can’t vote online or email your postal vote back to us!
Next Week – The close of nominations and the publication of the Statement of Persons Nominated.