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14 May 2021

Publish date: 14/05/2021

The 2021 Elections: The Show Must Go On

So we survived, just, most of us.. The most complex polls ever, as far as I can recall anyway.

We had the deferred 2020 and 2021 polls, so multiple polls running on what is a fragile system.

And Covid.

We had issues with venues (schools again) and also venues being used for test and trace. Some also couldn't get portacabins as usual.

Staff were understandably less prepared to volunteer, and drop-outs were an issue.

And suppliers - some printers had issues, some had more and bigger issues than others.

But somethings went well.

They happened! Despite some massive issues, most problems were overcome (at what cost – money and effort / stress etc). And when it got really bad, a point of crisis, everyone came together to solve the issues.

A bit of la

When it all goes wrong, the Returning Officer (RO) cannot stop, defer or abandon the poll. There is no scope in the rules to do this. Only in case of riot at the polling station: see rule 42 of the Principal Area Election Rules 2006, SI 2006/3304 and corresponding rules for other polls. Courts could intervene if the RO purported to stop etc and possible breach of official duty by the RO. Any subsequent replacement election then called by the RO would not be an election properly and lawfully called.

SO ROs must do the best they can. The show must go on.

S46 Electoral Administration Act 2006 came of age. S46 enables the RO to take such steps as the RO thinks appropriate to remedy any act or omission on the part of the returning officer or any relevant person, which includes those providing goods or services, e.g., printing, to the returning officer. Taking a step includes not taking a step. Or taking the step of allowing, for want of anything better, an "imperfect" document.

The law (in the case of say ballot papers) sets out the end position. R 47 2006 Rules (and its equivalent in other rules) states what is required for a ballot paper to be counted (and what is a doubtful ballot paper).

In the case of ballot papers, the RO must ensure there are ballots papers that can be marked and counted. In order to be counted there must be an official mark and it must not be void for uncertainty e.g. Missing candidate(s).

The RO must run the poll with an eye to not denying the franchise.

The show must go on.

Best wishes

Mark Heath

VWV Public Sector Consultant