To consider the attached report.
The Committee considered a comprehensive report on behalf of the Returning Officer, reviewing the planning, management and delivery of the local elections held on 2 May 2019. The report had not addressed arrangements made for the European Parliamentary election held on 23 May 2019, as a number of arrangements and processes for the election had been prescribed by the appointed Regional Returning Officer for the Eastern Region(the Chief Executive of Chelmsford City Council). The Committee was advised that candidates and agents for the elections had also been offered an opportunity to provide feedback on the management of the local elections.
The Democratic Services Manager advised that an Elections Planning Group had met regularly from the autumn of 2018, in order to plan for the elections and to ensure that relevant processes were undertaken at the appropriate times. A project plan and risk register was prepared for the election, which was reviewed and updated on a regular basis. However, the Returning Officer left the authority in late 2018 and the Council appointed D. Macnab (Acting Chief Executive) as Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer at the Council meeting on 20 December 2019. The new Returning Officer attended the relevant training courses facilitated by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives during January 2019 which ensured a smooth transition.
There had been 19 seats on the Council due for election in May 2019, of which all were due in the electoral cycle and two of these seats were not contested. There were also elections held for 28 parish and town council wards across the district including two by-elections on 2 May 2019.
The relevant publicity was provided nationally by the Electoral Commission and locally by the Corporate Communications Manager throughout the period of the registration deadlines and during the run-up to the election. The ballot papers for the election were printed by the Council’s Reprographics Section. However, with the closure of the Reprographics Section in August 2019, alternative arrangements for the printing of ballot papers for future local elections and any general election or referendum would need to be arranged.
In the run up to the election, the Returning Officer received valuable assistance from Essex Police and had recorded the Councils appreciation to Chief Inspector Basford and his officers for their support in maintaining the security of the election process and at the count.
The local elections illustrated that postal voting continued to be popular amongst registered electors across the district and a total of 6010 postal vote packs for the local elections were issued on 16 April 2019. The scanning equipment used for the postal vote opening experienced some reliability issues and would mostly likely need to be replaced soon, to ensure the effective management of the postal vote processes at future elections.
There were some changes to traditional polling station arrangements for the local elections on 2 May 2019, where by the former polling station at Allnutts Institute, Epping moved to the nearby Scout Hut in Flux’s Lane and the polling station at Hillhouse Primary School, Waltham Abbeymoved to the Waltham Abbey Leisure Centre. No observations regarding polling stations were received either on the day of the election or as a result of the post-election consultation exercise.However, communication was received from a member of the public with regard to the alleged activities of tellers at the polling station at North Weald Village Hall, and the current protocol would be reemphasised as part of the briefing session for local election candidates and agents in May 2020.
A separate count plan was prepared for the verification and count stages of the election which took place at Debden Park High School in Loughton which represented the best option for the effective management of the Count.
Finally the Committee’s attention was drawn to issues concerning the elections for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) for Essex and local elections on 7 May 2020 due to the movement of the May Day Bank Holiday for the national celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE day on 8 May 2020. This would mean that the verification and counting of ballots would be unlikely to be able to take place on 8 or 9 May 2020 as a result of the celebratory events. Therefore it may be necessary for counting activities for the PFCC and local elections to be undertaken across the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend and into the early part of the following week. The Returning Officer would ensure that members were kept advised of these arrangements and when they were finalised over the coming months.
The Committee asked a number of questions including whether the Council had an alternative printing contract; if postal voting was popular and could be open to fraudulently activity; whether photographic ID would be required in the future; and if any postal votes were received after the election date. The Senior Elections Officer, W MacLeod advised that provisional arrangements had been made with a printing company and the Council had also used them in a recent Moreton, Bobbingworth and the Lavers Neighbourhood Plan referendum. The percentage of people opting for postal votes were about 10/11% of the electorate and in line with the national trend. Regarding potential concerns with postal voting, residents could in theory register at two different properties, for example if they had a holiday home but they were required to state which address they wished to vote from and some postal votes had probably been received after the election through the post. With regards to the future use of ID, she advised that colleagues in other areas had been testing photographic ID at the last election cycle which had been successful due to the range of acceptable forms of ID that had been agreed with Electoral Commission, but no further progress had been made in the wider roll out of such requirements.
The Senior Elections Officer advised that it the delivery of the local elections had been on the basis of a 60% - 40% split between existing staff and a data base of other volunteers had built up over time, but this provided a good balance of people and experience.
(2) That the proposals of the Returning Officer for changes to arrangements for the management and delivery of local elections in future years be noted;
(3) That no recommendations be made to the Returning Officer for changes to procedure for the future management and delivery of local elections; and
(4) That the provisional verification and counting arrangements for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex and local elections to be held on 7 May 2020 be noted.