Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Electoral Commission May Prosecute Returning Officers Who Fail To Conduct Night Time Counts

A week ago, Eric Pickles MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party, called for the Electoral Commission to give Returning Officers an 'unambiguous steer' that General Election counts must take place on the Thursday night.

Yesterday, the Electoral Commission published a draft of its guidance, which will not be definitive until the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill becomes law, however currently it is by all accounts quite encouraging.

The guidance instructs Returning Officers who were thinking of counting on the Friday morning that they
"will now need actively to re-consider what steps it is reasonable to take in order to be able to commence counting the votes before 2am"
and reminds them that
"if they do not take reasonable steps, a court may find them to be in breach of their official duty under Section 63 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended)."
The draft guidance goes through some of the factors which Returning Officers will need to bear in mind when making their decision - venue availability, staffing, geography - and reminds them that anyone who does decide on a Friday count will by law have to be able to 'provide an audit trail demonstrating their decision making process'.

You can read the draft guidance in its entirety here.

Mr. Pickles responded to the publication of the draft guidance by reiterating his call for Returning Officers to do as Parliament has bid and prepare for a General Election Night count:
"Parliament has made a clear change to the law, creating a presumption in favour of overnight counts in the forthcoming general election. With the exception of the most geographically remote parts of the United Kingdom, town hall Returning Officers should now be actively planning to count their Parliamentary election on election night. Those who announced Friday counts should be making the necessary arrangements to revert back to Thursday evening counts. If unelected Returning Officers intend to defy the will of Parliament, they should come clean and say so now. There is still time for the Bill to be amended to make it more robust so that Parliament’s democratically expressed wishes can be duly implemented."
Acknowledgement: ConservativeHome | CentreRight | 17/03/2010

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