(Chairman of the Constitution and Member Services Scrutiny Panel – Councillor J Philip) To consider the attached report arising from their meeting on 25 June 2013.
Councillor Philips the Chairman of the Constitution and Member Services Scrutiny Standing Panel introduced their report on the review of the recent elections. These elections were for the seven County Council Divisions in our district and for one casual district by-election.
They noted that the level of turnout was disappointing. The Panel was informed that in the days before the election and throughout polling day, officers received numerous complaints by telephone, social media and face to face at polling stations about the lack of available information about candidates. Neither the Council nor the Returning Officer was able to publish candidates’ manifestos and those complaining were referred to where they could find information, e.g. searching the Internet. A common response from electors was that they expected to receive leaflets through their letterboxes and they did not have the time or inclination to search for information.
It was noted that officers had prepared a Project Plan and a Risk Register for the elections which was updated on a regular basis from the beginning of the year.
The Electoral Commission issued a direction to Returning Officers to report their performance against set standards regarding planning and organisation, administering the poll, absent voting, verifying and counting the votes and action after the poll. In order to comply with the direction it was necessary to submit monitoring returns by specified dates. The monitoring returns required answers to set questions but in addition, the Commission specified that a sample of Returning Officers, including Epping Forest, should submit data/evidence to support the responses. All of the returns and documents requested were submitted in accordance with the specified times. The Panel were pleased to report that the Commission did not raise any significant queries in relation to the submitted material and has subsequently confirmed that based on their analysis of the information submitted, officers met all of the necessary requirements.
It was noted that 80 established Polling Stations were provided in 72 different buildings on 2 May 2013. This required the appointment of 72 Presiding Officers and around 120 Poll Clerks.
On Election Day, representations were made about some of the buildings. At the Allnutts Institute in Allnutts Road, Epping there is a farm-type gate (wide enough for a tractor) which leads to a former allotments site. Whilst the gate appeared solid it would not act as a handrail if someone grabbed it after tripping. The gate would swing away from the path and take a person with it. Officers will hold discussions with the owners of the building about possible remedial works. The Panel were informed that an elector in a wheelchair found it difficult to enter the polling station at the Hastingwood Village Hall. The Whitebridge Junior School in Loughton had two entrances. It was desirable to have both entrances open as the distance between the two for a pedestrian was significant. However, representations were received on polling day that there was inadequate signage from the Southern Drive entrance which resulted in some electors walking around the school looking for the polling station. When the matter was drawn to the attention of the Presiding Officer additional signage was provided and we have been assured that the need for this would be emphasised to the Presiding Officer at future elections.
A complaint was made to one Presiding Officer about the lack of a Notice of Poll inside the polling station. This had been the case for several elections since the Electoral Commission pointed out to Returning Officers that this notice was not listed in the legislation as being one for display in a polling station.
The total number of postal vote packets issued was 8115. Only 4 packs failed to reach the electors in the post and had to be re-issued. 71% were returned which equates well with previous elections. They were informed that the issue and opening sessions for postal votes went smoothly. There was no evidence of any significant postal vote fraud although 145 postal votes were rejected for various reasons – no ballot paper, no postal voting statement, mismatched signature or date of birth or both.
Unfortunately there were some issues with tellers which need to be addressed for the future. It was noted that a couple of tellers had left poll cards on the floor of the areas that they had occupied during the day. Fortunately the Presiding Officers collected those poll cards at the close of poll and brought them back to the Civic Offices where they were shredded.
(1) That the review of the Elections held on 2 May 2013 be noted;
(2) That, as it appears that some agents and candidates are not briefing their tellers sufficiently, future information sent to them should emphasise the need for this and an additional letter be sent to agents and candidates whether acting for themselves or not, approximately one week before the poll reminding them of the role and restrictions on tellers and asking them to draw the attention of their tellers to the agreed local protocol seeking details from electors only on the way out of the polling station and the need to dispose of poll cards securely;
(3) That the proposed actions reported by officers in response to issues raised be agreed; and
(4) That the Deputy County Returning Officer and his staff be congratulated on the efficient manner in which the elections were held.