Guidance for (Acting) Returning Officers administering a UK Parliamentary election in Great Britain

Training presiding officers, poll clerks and polling station inspectors

Presiding Officers, Poll Clerks and other front line staff are frequently the only members of your staff that voters will meet in person. It is essential that such staff are trained to understand their role and to perform their duties professionally and effectively, and are able to provide a high standard of customer care. 

Such staff need to be able to communicate well with all voters. To ensure that staff understand the barriers that some disabled people face when voting, accessibility issues should be covered in training.

You should give polling station staff and polling station inspectors a copy of the Commission’s handbook for polling station staff and polling station quick guide and instruct them to read both ahead of polling day and to bring their copies with them on polling day itself.

Polling station handbook – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed. If you are running a UK Parliamentary by-election you should contact your local Commission team for support and advice.

Polling station quick guide – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed.

Polling station inspectors will also need spare copies of the handbook and quick guide to give to polling station staff who have forgotten to bring their copies on polling day.

All polling station staff should be required to attend a training session. The training session should address:

  • the tasks to be carried out ahead of polling day 
  • the setting up and management of the polling station 
  • who can attend a polling station and the procedures to be followed on polling day itself including checking photographic ID, marking the register and filling in the required forms during the poll
  • (for elections on or after 2 May 2024) the process for receiving postal votes handed in at the polling station
  • the need for polling station staff to be customer-focused and to offer assistance to all voters, including being aware of accessibility needs for disabled voters
  • the security of election stationery, including returned postal votes
  • the importance of handling personal data in line with data protection legislation
  • the procedures to be followed at the close of poll
  • health and safety issues

You should provide polling station staff and polling station inspectors with contact numbers for use in the event of any problems. As well as numbers for the elections office, this should include a contact number for the police.

Training all staff, including polling station inspectors, on the roles and responsibilities associated with working in the polling station can help provide contingency in the event of loss of staff. For more information see our guidance on Flexible staffing at polling stations.

We have prepared resources to support your training including:  

  • a template PowerPoint briefing for polling station staff which you can update with any additional local information you consider necessary 
  • a quiz for polling station staff and role play exercises and scenarios that you can use as a mechanism for testing and embedding learning 
  • an exercise on completing the ballot paper accounts, to provide the foundation for an accurate verification
  • a template graphical guide to packaging materials at the close of poll is also available, for you to adapt and provide to polling station staff

Training polling station inspectors

You should provide an additional briefing for polling station inspectors, covering items that are specific to their role and ensuring they are aware of the checklist for polling station inspectors. We have developed a template checklist for polling station inspectors that you may find helpful.

Your training should communicate that polling station inspectors play an important role in the effective management of the poll and should be able to deal with queries and problems arising at the polling station on polling day. Polling station inspectors must ensure that all of their assigned polling stations are properly set up, fully equipped and accessible to all voters and that they can identify and deal with any problems arising. For example, if there are any queues building up the polling station inspector should be able to find a solution to reduce them.

 

In certain circumstances, such as if a private check of a female elector's photographic ID is required for religious reasons, female Polling Station Inspectors may also be required to attend a polling station to check the photographic ID if a polling station only has male staff.

Training should also emphasise that the collection of postal votes as directed by the Returning Officer is a task that must be conducted with care, making sure that all those collected are properly and accurately logged.  At no time should these postal votes be left in a vehicle while the polling station inspector visits the polling stations. 

You should make the polling station inspector aware that they may be involved in liaising with the elections office regarding clerical errors on the register and emergency proxy applications.

You should ensure that each polling station inspector receives the following items:

  • a mobile phone (if required)
  • an ID badge clearly showing their name as a representative of the Returning Officer
  • a label for the car windscreen with appropriate identification
  • a map of the area identifying the location of all of the polling places allocated to the inspector
  • the names of all polling station staff and a contact number for each of the Presiding Officers
  • a contact list of all of the key holders for the polling places in the allocated area (it may also be useful to have the contact number of a locksmith in case a lock is jammed)
  • a contact number for the police
  • a ballot box with spare seals
  • a sundries box with spare stationery and forms
  • polling station handbooks and quick guides
  • a copy of the register for each polling station
  • spare ballot papers (sealed and only to be used in an emergency)
  • a wallet/packet with a sealing mechanism to collect returned postal votes, along with a log for recording number of postal votes removed, the time of collection and details of the person who collected them
  • a spare blank ballot paper account
  • a polling place/station checklist to be completed for each polling place
  • copies of the Code of conduct for tellers and any other local instructions
Last updated: 19 December 2023