GENERAL ELECTION

The sector did itself proud

Regardless of issues, the General Election was successfully delivered, says Peter Stanyon — but change is needed to avoid future failure

Six weeks.

Six weeks from a standing start. Six weeks to deliver one of the most complex projects in local government's extensive portfolio.

A no fail service, delivering trusted and accurate results within a legislative framework designed in Victorian times. In full public scrutiny with intense media interest and, unfortunately, elements of misinformation and misunderstanding about how elections run.

The General Election was announced only 20 days after 2 May polls across England and Wales. As always, with little regard to the intense pressure on local authorities, and elections professionals and suppliers who in many areas were already running on empty.

As we knew it would, our sector did itself proud. Returning officers were supported throughout, candidates - both successful and unsuccessful – were treated with professionalism and respect, and voters were able to make their choice at the ballot box.

Despite only having six weeks, the election was successfully delivered.

System inadequacies are well known. The short timetable, reliance on external suppliers, and restrictions on reissuing undelivered postal packs.

That's not to say there weren't issues, very publicly in some instances. It's the case at every election - how they're dealt with is what's important.

Take postal voting. The Association of Electoral Administrators have long argued for a process review. The media highlighted issues across different areas. Was it as bad as made out?

The Electoral Commission's chief executive commented: ‘We're seeing a very similar pattern to previous elections … we're not seeing major systemic [delivery] problems.'

There were data input challenges. The new online application process caused frustration as we were concerned it would. There were printing issues, but not as widespread as suggested. Royal Mail had challenges in some areas but responded as the situation unfurled.

Any postal pack not received in time is hugely frustrating. Electoral administrators want to help people vote, not put barriers in their way.

But was there a systemic failure affecting every area? No.

System inadequacies are well known. The short timetable, reliance on external suppliers, and restrictions on reissuing undelivered postal packs.

Just maybe there will now be enough political interest to spark an in-depth review to address these concerns. We need one.

Elections are delivered despite the many limitations of current law and delivery structure. Areas of concern remain:

·         ‘Agile' application portals still not as efficient as they should be. Despite sterling progress by the Government Digital Service, iterative development continues to cause delays and frustration for administrators.

·        Lack of connectivity between local authority systems and the online absent vote application system.

·        Massive reliance on a small number of printers, who are just as frustrated by timescales as administrators are.

·        Strain on Royal Mail to deliver poll cards, postal votes and candidate mailings in a limited timescale, and collect and return postal votes.

Then there's voter expectation. 21st century electors expect immediate responses - order groceries online they arrive next day. Apply for a postal vote online, it can only arrive in the last few weeks before polling day. That's the system, but explaining it is tough.

Regardless of issues, this election was successfully delivered. Everyone involved should be proud. But change is needed to avoid future electoral failure - through no fault of those administering antiquated processes.

Peter Stanyon is chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA)

X @AEA_ChiefExec

 

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