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5 May polls on track but challenges remain, says election watchdog

Preparations are currently on track for the proposed referendum and scheduled elections on 5 May next year but it will still be a significant challenge to make sure they are well run, according to the Electoral Commission.

Chair of the Electoral Commission Jenny Watson – who will be the Chief Counting Officer responsible for the conduct of the referendum – said:

“Ultimately it is for the UK Parliament to decide whether the proposed referendum goes ahead, but as the Bill stands having passed through the Commons, enough progress has been made against the risks we set out to allow the different polls on 5 May to run smoothly. The Bill has now passed to the House of Lords for their consideration, and we will continue to monitor its progress.”

“But delivering well-run polls on 5 May will be a major challenge and it’s important local authorities have the right resources and staff in place to do this.  Some members of the Steering Group we’ve set-up have highlighted the risks that could arise from the pressure local authorities are under between now and 5 May.   We and the Regional Counting Officers for the referendum will be monitoring the position closely and make clear if at any point we think this will significantly affect the delivery of the polls.”

“We are also disappointed that the UK Government has not taken the opportunity of this Bill to implement our May 2010 recommendation to change the law so that Returning Officers can issue ballot papers to anyone who is at a polling station, but has not yet voted, when polling closes at 10pm.”

In July 2010, the UK Government proposed holding a referendum on voting reform on 5 May 2011, the same day as scheduled elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and some parts of England.

At the time, the Electoral Commission published a statement setting out a number of practical risks that those involved would need to address to ensure the smooth conduct of the polls. The Commission has now set out how preparations are progressing:

The conduct rules for the referendum must be clear six months in advance

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies (PVSC) Bill – which clearly sets out the legal framework and detailed rules under which the referendum is run - has now finished its passage through the House of Commons. We will continue to monitor its progress as it passes through the Lords.

The referendum and elections must be formally combined

The PVSC Bill contains provision for the formal combination of the referendum and scheduled elections on 5 May, meaning that the voting process will be simpler for voters and those that run elections.

Robust planning for the referendum and elections must be in place

The Commission has established a Steering Group – including representatives from the Commission, Regional Counting Officers, the Association of Electoral Administrators and the UK Government – to coordinate delivery of the referendum and elections and ensure robust planning for the 5 May. Some members of the Steering Group have identified that the pressure local authority staff and resources are under may affect the delivery of the polls and we will be monitoring this closely.

Adequate provision must be made to inform voters about how to take part on 5 May

The Commission has put in place plans for a campaign to inform voters on how to take part on 5 May, including a booklet that the Commission will send to all 28 million households in the UK.

Adequate funding must be provided to run the polls effectively  

The UK Government has indicated that it intends to use the framework used for the 2009 European Parliamentary and 2010 UK general election, to provide appropriate funding for the delivery of the polls. The Commission will continue to monitor whether local authorities have sufficient resources and staff in place to deliver these polls.

The Chief Counting Officer has also today said that she is minded to direct Counting Officers to start counting the votes for the referendum on the afternoon of Friday 6 May, after the votes for elections in Great Britain have been counted, and has asked those involved in the referendum for their opinions on the proposals.

A paper on the timing of the count, the Commission’s public awareness activity and more information about the risks and progress against these risks can be found on the Electoral Commission website.

Ends/

For further information contact

Press office on 020 7271 0704

Out of office hours on 07789 920414

Notes to editors

 1.      The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance, set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulations of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).

2.      Scheduled elections to the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as local elections in Northern Ireland and some parts of England, will take place on 5 May 2010, the same date as the proposed voting system referendum.

3.      Unlike elections, the Electoral Commission has a significant operational role in the conduct of referendums. Find out more about the Commission’s roles and responsibilities here: www.electoralcommission.org.uk/elections/referendums/our-role-and-responsibilities 

4.      The Chair of the Electoral Commission – Jenny Watson – will be the Chief Counting Officer for the referendum. Find out more about the role of the Chief Counting Officer here: www.electoralcommission.org.uk/elections/referendums/chief-counting-officer

5.      The latest information about the proposed voting system referendum – including our questions assessment, our planned campaign and our latest Parliamentary briefings – please see: www.electoralcommission.org.uk/elections/upcoming-elections-and-referendums/uk/referendum

 

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