The Electoral Commission has just published its report on the General Election 2017 which notes the four key issues with Plymouth City Council’s handling of the election were around poll cards, postal votes, removal of voters from the register and the incorrect declaration at the count. These issues were identified in Dr Smith’s Independent Review, commissioned by the Council, which was presented to the meeting of Full Council in September.
The Council has put in place a robust improvement plan which is being supported by the Electoral Commission, scrutinised by Councillors and will be subject to a further review by Dr Smith in January 2018.
Tracey Lee, Plymouth’s Chief Executive and Returning Officer says: “Major changes have been made since June including recruiting a new Head of Electoral Services and extra election staff, installing a new computer system, providing more support from other areas of the Council and introducing rigorous quality assurance systems.
“Evidence that this approach is bearing fruit is the completion of the full electoral work to get people to register to vote by 1 December. So far this shows an 83.3% return rate from the Electoral Registration forms sent out compared to 81.6% this time last year. We now have 187,684 people registered to vote a small increase from 2016. There are also more people registered to vote in wards where registration was lower and the number of people choosing a postal vote has stayed the same as in previous years.
We also want to encourage anyone who hasn’t sent their form back yet to do so and remind people that they can register throughout the year. In addition, the Council is carrying out extra work with partners in the city to reach under-represented groups such as students, older people in care homes, homeless people, people with disabilities and those from black and minority ethnic communities.”
The Electoral Commission say in the report: “The Returning Officer (RO) is clear about the need to improve the delivery of future elections in Plymouth, and work is underway to address the independent review recommendations. We note the significant challenges the RO has faced in recruiting the necessary staff for key roles to support the administration of elections and registration, which contributed to the problems at the June 2017 election. We will continue to work closely with Plymouth to ensure the required improvements are made.”
Adrian Green, Regional Manager London and South West, from the Electoral Commission added: “From our meetings with the Returning Officer and attendance at Improvement Board meetings we have been very impressed with the commitment shown by the leadership team of the local authority to address the issues that occurred at the UK general election, reflecting their acknowledgement of the seriousness of the issues and their resolve to strive towards a first class electoral service. We are pleased that key appointments have been made to address the skills issues, and we look forward to continue working with the authority both to support and to challenge performance in the run up to the elections in May 2018.”