Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by DocQwise Business Services Ltd (POS 46(a))



1.   Presentation by John Sills, Head of Electoral Policy Division, Department for Constitutional Affairs

  John's presentation set out the role of DCA and ODPM and the different elections and referendums that each department managed. He also set out the Pilot Bill stages which would lead to royal assent in mid-march, a detailed Pilot Order would then follow royal assent. A working party with DCA, ODPM, Electoral Commission and Regional Returning Officers (RROs) had met on Friday 23rd January 2004 and some of the important issues from that discussion were procurement, postal delivery, security, funding arrangements and project management.

2.   Appointment of Co-ordinator/Programme Manager—One per County

  It was agreed that the Project Management Team, that had informally been set up, continue to meet throughout the election period to liaise between RRO and Local Returning Officer (LRO)—one per County area: Steve Taylor (Chair), Bill Crawford (Sunderland), Mick Miller (Northumberland), Jim Thompson (Durham), Debby Frost (Tyne & Wear), Brian Siswell (Tees Valley).

3.   Notices:

    —  Notice of Election.

    —  Notice of Poll.

    —  Ballot Paper (including large print).

  It was agreed that the RRO would produce Notices of Election and Poll in electronic or hard copy (LRO to advise) and a template of the ballot paper to be used and sufficient large print ballot papers for Supported Delivery Points (SDP)—LROs to advise on quantity.

4.   Preparation and issue of ballot papers:

    —  Printing and distribution to electors of Security Statements/return envelopes.

    —  Issuing replacements as necessary.

  It was agreed that LROs would be responsible for procuring the printing of ballot papers, Security Statements, elector instructions and envelopes and for the distribution of ballot paper packs to electors.

  On 3 February 2004 DCA have confirmed that the Pilot Order will provide for:

    (a)  A white ballot paper for the European Election (which will include on the reverse a unique identifying number and a bar code)—note the depth allowed for each party or individual candidate will be 3.5 cm as set out in The European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004 (previously circulated). The official mark can be in the form of a watermark, underprinting or heat sensitive ink.

    (b)  Where combined local elections are taking place a grey ballot paper (which will include on the reverse a unique identifying number and a bar code) for local elections printed in accordance with the Local Elections Principal Area Rules.

    (c)  A numbered ballot paper envelope.

    (d)  Outward Window envelope.

    (e)  Return Window envelope.

    (f)  A Security Statement, the wording of which will be supplied by Electoral Commission (EC), and signed only by the elector. The reverse of the Security Statement will include the Returning Officers address, a unique identifying number (not the electoral number) and a bar code (to enable returns to be scanned through the returned window envelope). Only one Security Statement will be used for single and combined elections.

    (g)  Provision has been made in the event of Parish elections or Parish by-elections for a lilac ballot paper.

    (h)  Provision will be made to allow for combining items together eg Security Statement and information literature or combined ballot papers to cut down on the number of inserts.

    (i)  The elector will also be supplied with instructions on how to complete and return the ballot papers, wording supplied by EC. The reverse will include the electors address details, designed to fit in the outward window envelope.

  Please note that one piece mailers, ballot papers that fold in on themselves to create an envelope effect or any other innovations will not be allowed.

5.   Service provider (Royal Mail?) to deliver to electors

  All LROs indicated they intended to use Royal Mail (RM) to deliver and return ballot papers. RM intends setting up Business Reply Licences for each local authority and where combined elections are being held, for each ward within that authority. RM will issue, in the next few days, guidance on window envelopes to be used and will issue all LROs with a "good practice guide".

  RM have appointed Customer Operations Managers as follows:

    David Matthews—Darlington, Derwentside, Durham, Teesdale, Sedgefield and Wear Valley.

    Clive Barbrooke—Chester-le-Street.

    Clare Thomson—Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton.

    Elaine Stuart—Easington, Newcastle and South Tyneside.

    Bill Oxbrough—Gateshead and Sunderland.

    Sharon Clarke—North Tyneside and all of Northumberland.

  LROs will be approached by Royal Mail in the next two weeks to discuss their requirements. RRO will advise on contracts to obtain best discounts available.

  RROs are being advised by Royal Mail that they intend to make available for collection at 8.30 pm on 10 June 2004 ballot papers posted that day. LROs will need to make arrangements with their Customer Operations Manager.

6.   Houses in multi occupation—Students (Universities)

  LROs to be aware of Government concerns regarding security of votes in HIMO's, particularly students who may be away from their term time address.

  LROs are to be supplied with a CPS hotline within each region to report allegations of suspected fraud.

7.   Scanning of returned envelopes to produce "polling progress information" (marked registers)

  LROs will need to ensure that their election management system provides for scanning returned ballot papers on a daily basis and for the production of lists in an electronic or hard copy format. Systems will also need to be able to invalidate ballot papers and issue replacements. Note the Pilot Order will provide that at combined elections both ballot papers are re-issued with a new Security Statement, and that electors will be requested to provide the LRO with identification before a replacement can be issued.

  Provisions and processes will need to be in place to record and match ballot papers and Security Statements that arrive separately.

8.   Supported Delivery Points:

    —  Trained Staff.

    —  Voters able to mark vote in secret (with assistance if required).

    —  Number of Delivery Points.

    —  Information printed in other languages.

    —  Unmanned drop off points not allowed.

  LROs are asked to provide the RRO with details of the number of Supported Delivery Points (SDPs) they intend to use. It was agreed that SDPs would be open from the period Royal Mail deliver the ballot papers, and that the regulations would provide for at least one SDP per principal area and it must be open until the close of poll at 10.00 pm. Justification will have to be made for additional SDPs.

9.   Timetable:

    —  Close of nominations—13 May.

    —  First postal vote deadline—25 May.

    —  Delivery to Royal Mail—26 May.

    —  Post to electors—27 May.

    —  Scan returns daily.

    —  Verification—3, 8 and 10 June.

    —  Close of Poll—10.00 pm 10 June.

  Timetable—DCA are looking at the possibility of moving the timetable back two days to allow more time to print the ballot paper packs, they are also looking at combining and changing postal vote deadlines, LROs will still be required to submit ballot paper packs to Royal Mail on 26 May 2004.

  Verification—will be at the discretion of the LRO, however for consistency LROs may wish to consider verifying on the above dates. It is likely that the Pilot Order will mandate that ballot papers during the verification procedure are face down.

  Close of Poll—is confirmed at 10.00 pm 10 June 2004 and LROs will be required to supply the RRO with the verified total figure on Thursday 10 June 2004 after 10.00 pm (RRO to supply forms and procedures).

10.   Unsigned Security Statements:

    —  Return to electors.

    —  Assistance to voters.

    —  Tactile device.

  The Pilot Order will require that LROs return to electors unsigned Security Statements discovered during the verification process. It would seem logical that the latest time to post unsigned Security Statements out would be Tuesday 8 June 2004.

11.   Publicity:

    —  No Poll Card.

    —  Consistency.

  Although no Poll Card is required, LROs will be required to have delivered (by hand or by Royal Mail) to either every elector or every household a leaflet designed by DCA in consultation with EC, precise details will follow.

12.   Count:

    —  E-counting (any interest?).

    —  Sunday 13 June.

    —  Result to RRO after 9.00 pm.

  LROs interested in e-counting will be required to submit a business plan and a cost analysis to ODPM as a matter of urgency. It is likely that the criteria will be value for money by local authorities working in partnership or by demonstrating to ODPM that the e-counting element enhanced the e-pilot programme.

  Sunday 13 June—it was agreed that LROs would count votes on Sunday 13 June 2004 and that the result of the count could not be shared with local agents until after 9.00 pm. Count staff would be required to remain at the count centre until at least 9.00 pm in the event of a re-count being requested locally. The LRO would then, after clearing the result locally, forward the figures to the RRO for clearance. Procedures and paperwork will be agreed and supplied by RRO at a later date.

  LROs are reminded that documents are to be retained for 24 months and if this incurs a storage charge, the RRO will advise DCA and seek necessary approval.

13.   Contingencies/Back up

  John Sills reported that there was a remote possibility that the Pilot Bill would fall and LROs were asked to prepare contingencies in the event of having to revert to a traditional election.

14.   Evaluation

    —  Kate Sullivan, Assistant Director, Policy, Electoral Commission.

  Kate Sullivan reported on the evaluation process the EC has, by law, to complete for pilots, and also outlined the training programme.

15.   Fees & Charges:

    —  Training.

  John Sills recorded that the Fees and Charges Order has been worked on by his staff and representatives from the RRO group and was almost finalised. Work would then begin on an Order for the pilot areas which may be similar to the ODPM proposals for the Referendum, where an amount per elector and an amount per returned vote were being tested.

16.   Regional Referendum:

    —  Stephen Judson, Referendums Team, Electoral Commission.

  Stephen Judson reported on the progress being made on the Regional Referendum likely to be held on 21 October 2004 and urged LROs to complete the Fees and Charges spreadsheet that had been circulated to them in order that the EC could evaluate if the proposed amounts per elector and return vote met the needs to run the election.

17.   Referendum:

    —  Regional Government.

    —  Review of local government (where appropriate).

    —  Two Ballot papers or one?.

  Concern was expressed by LROs at the ODPM proposal to send them boxes of maps to insert into ballot paper packs. The RRO has subsequently contacted EC to suggest templates instead of pre-printed documents.

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