Behind the Elections

Now the dust has settled on the election results I felt it was now safe to write about it – that’s the elections itself, not the results!

It was a bumper series of elections for me, day, night and weekend.

Thursday 7th May

5.30am

5:30am comes round far too early on Election Day, but I woke with an air of anticipation. I love Election Day, but I am not sure my elections team do. It is manic for them throughout the day with phone call after phone call after phone call – some pleasant; some abusive; some with far too many expletives in it than is good for anyone.

My day quite simply consists of visiting polling stations; the office and the count venue to make sure everything is okay.

7.30pm

There’s no time for rest and at 7:30pm I’m off to the count venue (Colchester Leisure World) to do final preparations, check the paperwork and watch the staff arrive.  Without them it would take me months to count all those ballot papers on my own.

9.30pm

It’s 9.30pm and I have briefed all count staff on what to do, what to expect and what not to do. There were an amazing 140 vote counters on the night!

9.40pm

I give my final briefing to the count supervisors at 9.40pm to highlight the process and the implementation of what we have planned for over recent months.

10:00pm

Polling stations close.

10:14pm

The first ballot box arrives at Charter Hall; it was from the Greenstead Community Centre.

At this point everyone says ‘just count the ballot papers, tell us who has won and we can all be finished by 1:00am.’ – I wish!!

There are 128 polling stations some with one ballot box (parliamentary); some with two (parliamentary and borough); and some with three (parliamentary; borough and town/parish). So overall there are well over 300 ballot boxes.

Each of these have to be individually accounted for to check the number of ballot papers the Presiding Officer (man or woman in the polling station) says they issued in the day corresponds with the number in the ballot box. Every one of the boxes has to be verified in this way because sometimes the wrong ballot paper goes in the wrong box. Can’t have that can I otherwise I might not count your vote and that would be wrong.

2.30 – 3.00am

Verification is completed. Now for the fun bit which does not normally take very long – counting the ballot papers for the candidate you voted for.

5.40am

The Colchester count is completed and I announce the result.

5.50am

It’s not all done yet because we are also counting for the Harwich and North Essex constituency. Ten minutes after the Colchester result is announced, everything is ready and I announce the outcome for Harwich and North Essex.

6.00 – 6.30am

Everyone goes home, the hall empties but I and my two deputies have paperwork to do. I must complete the two writs with the two results on it and it is collected by the post office at 10am that morning.

7.00am

Now it’s my turn to go home.

Friday 8th May

I’ve lost what day it is already but after getting in and walking the dog I fit in two hours of sleep. Then I’m up for breakfast (or should that be lunch), then back to count venue to do it all again for the 20 Colchester Borough Councillor elections.

This time there are more than two announcements to make – 20 in fact! The count takes place, the announcement for each ward is made and more paperwork piles up. After that, I am fortunate to go home on Friday evening, rather than the following morning.

Sunday 10th May

Finally some time to rest over the weekend. Wait. One more election! On Sunday morning at 9am I was heading back to the count for the Town and Parish Council elections.

I remember to stay focussed, enthusiastic and energetic even though, instead of hundreds of people in the hall there are 9. Nevertheless, it is just as important and I am just as interested in their results.

The Sunday count always feels a bit like jet lag. Is it morning or evening? When did we last sleep? Is today really a Sunday?

It is so get on with it properly and professionally. There is just a slight delay in announcing the very last count result for 2015 when we realise one ballot box is still under lock and key in the basement amongst 300 empty ones.

After a slight pause we fetch it and re-start the count. After completing this final part the result is announced. People begin to drift off home. For me, one final set of paperwork to complete before arriving back home at about 4.30pm.

Elections done for 2015!

Next year will be all out; 51 seats for the Borough Council elections and a Police and Crime Commissioner to boot!

Just to add to the fun the Cabinet Office have appointed me as the Returning Officer for the Police and Crime Commissioner election across the whole of Essex.

Oh what fun – at least I think this is what my Elections Manager said!!

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3 thoughts on “Behind the Elections

  1. Hi Justin,

    Thanks for your question.

    Ultimately the role of a Returning Officer is to ensure an election operates effectively. It includes taking a personal responsibility for everything from the nominations and appointment of Presiding Officers/Poll Clerks to the declaration of the result. Failure to do so would make a Returning Officer liable for disrupting the democratic process.

    In regards to the frequency of elections in Colchester, our members have decided to continue to elect by thirds and not once every four years – this is something that I have asked and their decision is to continue as is.

    As for other elections for which I am the Returning Officer for, these are called by other organisations – The Govt for Parliamentary Elections; Europe for European Elections; the Govt for Police and Crime Commissioners; the Govt for a European in/out referendum; Parish Councils for Parish Elections.

    My fee is set by Govt and determined by the number of electors entitled to vote and the type of election undertaken. The Govt have decided that my responsibilities warrant the fee as determined.

    I hope this helps to answer your question.

    Regards,

    Adrian

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  2. Regarding the Democratic Process. It is confirmed it is our Elected Members who decide to continue as is. So does that mean the Electorate in Colchester are not and can never be consulted as how often tax payers money is spent on elections. Mr Pritchard, as The Chief Executive Officer and “the interface between the people of Colchester and principle adviser to Members” can the Electorate of Colchester be consulted before you present a report regarding elections and advise and recommend how Elected Members should decide on our behalf? In these times of austerity does it not make sense to protect revenue collected from the payers of taxes?

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