By Katherine Vass, Electoral Services Officer, Bromsgrove District Council and Redditch Borough Council
As an Electoral Services Officer in a small local authority I’ve always viewed the Electoral Commission as a bit of an ivory tower, a faceless organisation far removed from the electoral frontline. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
I reached the tall glass Commission building late and flustered – having not anticipated the closure of the overcrowded tube platform – to be welcomed by Elaine, Senior Communications Officer, with a coffee and a run through of the day’s events. From the first email the Electoral Commission were surprisingly open and welcoming.
The whirlwind of the past electoral year, principally the hectic EU Referendum, is still at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Whilst they may not ordinarily serve on the elections frontline, the EC were thrust into the thick of it at the referendum too so we began our day with a chat about the EC’s press releases and neon penguin. I confirmed how useful these resources are for frazzled administrators. They shared in my frustrations about not being able to help electors with registration queries or being able to look up polling stations online.
We compared how the big referendum issues, like the registration deadline extension, the wording of the question and the pens vs pencils debate affected us. They took note of how they could help administrators in the future which was encouraging to say the least, and of course I’m delighted to hear about their plans for an online polling station look-up tool on their aboutmyvote.co.uk website!
We then discussed democratic engagement. This is something the EC Communications team is really passionate about and they give me some great pointers about involving partner organisations and setting up engagement events in unexpected places. Their ideas and campaigns definitely come under the ‘outside of the box’ category – I mean, imagine registering to vote at your local nightclub or finding you match with a registration page on Tinder! It sounds crazy but this is a good place to engage with the 25% of single people who aren’t registered and it really got me thinking about ways we can engage people in my organisation.
I was surprised to hear that the Commission come out of their ivory tower very frequently, doing a lot of the ‘on-the-ground-work’ like organising their own door-to-door research to check the accuracy and completeness of registers. Along with statistics from the census this information is used to produce some interesting figures. Did you know that 95% of homeowners are registered to vote compared to just over half of renters? Of course, the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) improved the accuracy of the registers too but it was really interesting to hear about their research.
The day was rounded off with a look at voter registration forms – a hot topic in the elections world. I was shown how these can be designed to encourage a response and picked up some tips that we could trial. The suggestions were thought-provoking; should we include why an elector’s neighbour votes or the cost of the door-to-door canvassing on the Household Enquiry form (which is the form sent to all households each autumn to check their details on the electoral register are correct)?
Having begun the day expecting to meet London-centric bureaucrats, I left with the realisation that many of the obstacles faced by the Electoral Commission are similar to those faced by administrators. They are really keen to work closely with administrators to provide the resources and guidance we need and they’re eager to hear how their resources are being used.
I highly recommend a trip to the Commission for administrators. It is surprising just how thought-provoking the experience was and it has made me eager to think outside of the box in my own organisation. Right, now I’m off to make plans for nightclub registrations…
PS Administrators, don’t forget to sign up to their new Roll Call newsletter!
Interested to get involved with promoting voter registration ahead of the May 2017 elections? Find out how here.