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Commentary on returning officers’ polling day

Brekky butties, comradery and pride on polling day

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Commentary on returning officers’ polling day

The twittersphere today has encapsulated everything that is unique about the Great British polling day.

Tweets ranging from the banal to the bizarre via the irreverent and the toxic made for a potent cocktail of sharp 140-character shots that could be entertaining, confusing, depressing and glorious – but rarely informative.

Many use the strange void before exit polls and the first results appear to either poke fun, revel in inanity or engage in a last minute partisan push for votes.

But returning officers, while responsible for ensuring the monumental logistics of election day are taken care of, have shown they can be relied upon to remain calm under pressure and offer considered commentary on activity where it really matters.

Jo Miller, Doncaster MBC chief executive and president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, yesterday sent an early message of support and inspiration for her colleagues and their staff across the country.

She defiantly declared that despite many staff barely having the time to recover from the demands of the local elections last month, “the desire to deliver safe and secure elections in a highly professional manner has remained undiminished”.

However, the Association of Electoral Administrators illustrated that inspiration and a sense of duty is sometimes not enough to keep staff going, tweeting that “an elections army administers on its stomach!”

This prompted Ms Miller to tweet that she was armed with a veritable smorgasbord of culinary delights for her staff – “brekky butties”, liquorice toffee, Squashies, wine gums and Haribo all round.

Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves responded by making the rather unlikely claim that staff were fuelled entirely by water and fresh fruit.

However, Ms Miller was faced with an early challenge this morning. A problem with a lock at one venue led to an improvised polling station being set up in the a back of a car for 20 minutes. Luckily, only one voter had to be accommodated.

Then followed heartening evidence of local government’s ability for working in partnership to get the job done.

In a message to Doncaster Children’s Trust chief executive Paul Moffat, Ms Miller thanked the trust for supporting her in releasing staff to join the election team.

Meanwhile Ian Miller, chief executive at Wyre Forest DC, gave a thorough commentary on what he was up to this morning – starting with a photograph of his politically neutral choice of tie.

The tireless Mr Miller informed us he had visited 15 of 44 polling stations he is responsible for by 10.30am before fully embracing the spirit of #dogsatpollingstations to lighten the mood.

Sandwiched between pictures of a sausage dog and evidence that a ginger sponge had hastily been consumed, the exacting Mr Miller’s first turnout prediction of “63% +/-2%” arrived at 12.27pm.

Sometimes it’s the small things that matter most and Milton Keynes Council chief executive Carole Mills reminded us that the basic function of voting doesn’t really change much.

She expressed her “love” for the fact that polling booths on her patch still provided a “fat pencil on a string – just like my granddad in the last but one century”.

Sandwell MBC chief executive Jan Britton reported a “brisk” start to voting this morning, with 77% of postal votes returned by 12.45pm.

Continuing Mr Miller’s historical theme and attention to detail, he also provided a picture of one of his favourite polling stations in Christ Church, Oldbury “where the Challoner family preside”.

Twitter activity among returning officers was understandably winding down this afternoon as preparations for the post-work rush and tonight’s count got under way.

But the messages that continued being shared among people in local government showed the strong sense of comradery, pride in duty and determination required to deliver what many take for granted, yet is fundamental to democracy and our way of life.

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