No 1 Administrators
The administration of general elections is the responsibility of the returning officers of the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies. The post is an honorary one, usually held on a long-term basis by a holder of an existing office such as county high sheriff, mayor or local council chairman. At the time of an election, each returning officer will appoint an (acting) returning officer to perform the returning officer’s functions.
(ACTING) Returning officers
(Acting) returning officers (AROs) are the unsung officials without whom a British general election could not take place.
Normally a senior council official or the chief executive of the local authority, the ARO for a constituency is appointed on an election-by-election basis. The ARO is responsible for the organisation and conduct of the election, including:
* distribution of poll cards and postal ballot papers;
* supplies of key items such as polling booths and ballot boxes;
* the conduct of the poll;
* the counting of votes.
AROs are legally responsible for mistakes made by their staff and may be fined up to £5,000 if convicted of breaches of their official duty. They are personally responsible for all aspects of the financial cost of administering an election. They are paid an advance and have to submit a detailed expense claim for all money spent.
AROs’ remuneration for the period of the election ranges from £2,500 to £5,401, depending on the constituency.
They also get a budget for expenses (including the payment of other officials) which ranges from £74,593 to £274,264 depending on constituency.
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 11/04/15
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 11/04/15
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
“Events last week have reinforced my prediction that the Tories will be the largest party. Ukip’s slow puncture may help the Tories most, and Nicola Sturgeon may well fulfil her wish to keep David Cameron in No 10 by reducing Labour’s Scottish MPs to numbers that could fit in a stretch limo.”
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
“The national picture remains largely unchanged, but YouGov’s Scotland polling shows the SNP at an all-time high. Only 44 per cent of Labour supporters felt Jim Murphy performed best in the first Scottish leaders’ debate.”
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
“I need to see a more decisive shift in the polls to think that Labour have definitely moved ahead of the Conservatives. There has been more good news for Labour than the Conservatives, with Ed Miliband’s personal ratings improving. Still, a hung parliament remains the most likely option.”
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
“I haven’t changed my broad view that the Tories will be the largest party, but Labour is likely to form a minority government. Last week’s projection (Con 280, Lab 273) looks pretty likely to me. The risk for Labour was that, as decision time looms, voters might take ahold of nurse, but that may be mitigated by Miliband’s showing in the debates.”
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
“Unchanged, except for an SNP uptick at Labour’s expense. The SNP’s surge in Survation’s polling continues unabated. Nicola Sturgeon scored well in our debate polling.”
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
“Despite all the sound, fury and bluster, there has been no game-changer. If anything, it’s become even tougher for the major parties, with signs of a softening in Conservative support and continued evidence that the SNP will inflict major damage on Labour.”
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
“Our latest polling figures, published today, show movement back towards the Conservatives (a two-point Tory lead). My prediction last week of a shaky sway back in favour of the Tories on election day holds fast; and with a hung parliament, who on earth knows who’ll be able to form a government?”
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
“At the equivalent point before the 2010 election, our poll suggested 37 per cent for the Tories and 31 per cent for Labour, which more or less nailed the actual result. I think that campaigns mostly reinforce perceptions rather than change minds.”
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
He refuses to make predictions. “My polls are snapshots, not predictions.”
In recent years there have been suggestions from MPs that the returning officers, being highly paid officials already, should not be entitled to substantial additional fees for overseeing elections.
The Conservative MP Andrew Selous has described such fees as “a large, undeserved cherry on top of an already very well-iced cake”.
John Mothersole, chief executive of Sheffield City Council, decided not to claim his £20,000 (acting) returning officer’s fee after long queues prevented many people in the city from voting in the 2010 general election.
(Acting) returning officers appoint presiding officers to run polling stations. The presiding officer is responsible for ensuring that the election runs smoothly within a particular polling station.
Specific responsibilities include ensuring that ballot boxes are secure and overseeing their safe transfer to the count. Like most election officials, presiding officers are usually local authority employees who have been seconded for the day.
Around 43,000 polling stations will be open on polling day, from 7am to 10pm These will be manned by about 120,000 people, mostly poll clerks.
Duties of polling clerks include:
* checking that electors are eligible to vote in that election and at that polling station;
* checking and marking elector numbers in the register of electors;
* issuing ballot papers;
* ensuring the secrecy of the ballot is maintained at all times;
* assisting voters in a friendly and professional way.
* Anyone can be a poll clerk, as long as they have not been involved in any candidate’s campaign, and are a British citizen of voting age.
Polling clerks can earn anything from £100 to £250 for working on election day, depending on the local authority. The shift is notoriously long, often lasting 15 or 16 hours.
Electoral registration officers
Electoral registration officers are responsible for ensuring that the electoral registers in their area are as complete and accurate as possible.
More than 80,000 counting assistants will count the votes on election night.
Election officials’ fees vary widely from constituency to constituency but might typically be:
Presiding officer: £250-£300;
Poll clerk: £115-£190;
Postal vote issuer: £8 per hour;
Postal vote opener: £9 per hour;
Count supervisor: £150 night shift;
Counting assistant: £12.50 per hour (plus £10 training fee).
Before 1918, returning officers’ administrative costs were paid (collectively) by the candidates in their constituency. Had such a system been in place in 2010, candidates would have faced an average bill of £27,290.
In 1832, total expenses for all the UK’s returning officers were £56,441 (or £141 per constituency). By 1997, the national total was £29,764,513 (£45,166 per constituency).
In 2005-6, the national payment to returning officers was £40,046,045 (£61,991 per constituency).
Organisations and individuals over 16 can apply to the Electoral Commission to be accredited as electoral observers.
Those who receive accreditation are entitled to observe specified electoral proceedings, including:
the issue and receipt of postal ballot papers;
the counting of the votes.
They are not allowed to do anything that would jeopardise the secrecy of the ballot.
Registers of accredited observers are available from the Electoral Commission.
Scrutineers, who may be present as observers during polling, may include the following: polling agents (who observe the sealing of the empty ballot box, look out for improper practices during polling and report anything of significance to their party candidate); counting agents (who observe the count and ensure that their candidate is not disadvantaged in any way); and accredited observers, who, unlike the agents, are required to be impartial and to report problems to election officials rather than candidates.
Often confused with officials, tellers are simply supporters of the various candidates and parties, who may stop you outside the polling station and ask you for your name and address. There is no need for you to tell them unless you want to.
Tellers must not “have discussions with voters which may give rise to allegations of undue influence (eg, voting intentions, party affiliations, party campaigns)” or display any campaign material in support of (or against) a party or candidate.
The Electoral Commission
Overall responsibility for the conduct of the election rests with the Electoral Commission, whose duties include:
registering political parties;
ensuring that people understand and follow the rules on party and election finance;
producing guidance for candidates and parties standing for election;
publishing details of where parties and candidates get money from;
“setting the standards for electoral registration” and making sure people understand that it is important to register to vote.
Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, has previously held senior roles at Charter 88, the Fawcett Society, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Banking Code Standards Board, Audit Commission and the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management.
She works three days a week and is paid £101,500 a year.
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