Election reflection

Ian Miller offers his personal reflections on polling day and the count in Wyre Forest, and he makes a plea for electoral legislation to be modernised

The fourth of July marked my sixth general election as an acting returning officer. If you watched the early results, and wondered who the lady in the plumed hat was, she was the returning officer – archaic provisions mean that the High Sheriff is the returning officer in county constituencies whereas it is the mayor or chairman in certain other constituencies. Their tasks – if they choose to perform them – are limited to receiving and returning the writ (another archaism) and declaring the result. Fortunately, the real work is done by acting returning officers and their electoral teams!

Turnout was significantly down from 67% to an estimated 60%: this was reflected in the Wyre Forest constituency which fell from 65.1% to 58.6%. It is worrying that, in most areas, four out of 10 electors did not take part in decisions about the future governance and direction of the UK. As usual, participation rates of postal voters were much higher, comfortably exceeding 80% locally. Perhaps it is time for a debate on mandatory postal voting for all. Postage costs would be higher but the cost of hiring and staffing polling stations would be avoided as well as the issues caused by photo ID. The close of poll could be at a sensible hour such as - shall we say? - noon, allowing most results to be declared in time for the evening news. Humans counting thousands of pieces of paper at a time when they should be sleeping seems likely to increase the probability of mistakes being made.

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