This week, election teams hauled themselves into work after what the Electoral Commission said was the UK’s biggest combination of polls since 1979.
Staff went into this election tired by the convoluted implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER). The logic of IER can’t be faulted but we must now make the system work. Doncaster’s electorate is 210,000 and in the 48 hours before registration closed, one thousand new applications were made. Many places reported a last-minute 10% surge in postal vote applications.
Elections are stressful, none more so than high-profile and combined polls. It doesn’t help when your elections manager leaves a month before the electoral timetable begins and one of your candidates might end up being the prime minister.
So what was my election in numbers? With parliamentary, whole council (on new boundaries) and parish (never again, please) polls, our record for highest number of candidates went from 160 to 538. Sixty-one thousand postal votes were issued and 80% returned. Four-hundred and fifty staff worked at 173 polling stations, delivering 380 ballot boxes to a count staffed with 320 volunteers, each consuming approximately half a kilo of Haribo.
Then there was the media. My communications team managed 140 media representatives at the parliamentary count with local, national and international crews including Dutch TV and Al Jazeera, and accommodated a helicopter and an enormous cherry-picker for outside shots.
Asking voters to choose one parliamentary candidate, two or three council candidates and, in one parish, 15 from 28 candidates is a tall order. My sympathies go to Bedford which faced parliamentary, mayoral, council and parish polls with a referendum thrown in for good measure.
This level of combinations confuses voters. I’d like to see an election every May for all the different offices so it becomes the norm. I’m not suggesting the government was wrong in combining polls rather than running parishes three weeks after the others, but the level of poll combinations warrants further discussion. As elections representative for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, I would love to hear colleagues’ views.
I’m mopping up the odd complaint this week. I will give short shrift to the voter who accused me of being incompetent because I’d put Ed Miliband on the ballot paper but not David Cameron. Then there was the time I had to deny an irate woman a ballot paper for her 10-year-old who was “Mensa material and therefore entitled”, or that guy who wanted to take a goat into the polling station. Returning officers could write a book.
For now, to all involved: giant thanks, and now rest, recover, and get ready for what lies ahead.
Jo Miller, chief executive, Doncaster MBC