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

Use of designated areas

You should consider designating areas for specific functions and identify what furniture and equipment will be required for each.

Arrival at the venue

Car parking and vehicle access

It is advisable to designate different parking areas for candidates, agents and observers, and for staff. It can be helpful to have a designated entrance and exit to the car park, to avoid congestion, such as when ballot boxes are arriving from the polling stations.

It may be useful to have staff supervising the car park at this time. Any staff working in the car parking area should be equipped with appropriate safety wear such as high-visibility jackets, and should be trained to deal with a large volume of traffic including, for example, counting agents arriving at the proceedings and polling station staff arriving with ballot boxes. 

Entrance

Staff should be positioned at the entrance(s) to check whether people seeking to enter the verification and count are entitled to do so. It can be helpful to have different entrances for staff and for other attendees. Additionally you should ensure that your entrance arrangements avoid creating a bottleneck which could delay the start of the verification and count. 

Receiving area

This is where ballot boxes, ballot paper accounts and other polling station stationery and equipment will arrive for checking in and sorting. Ideally, this area should have an entrance separate from that used by other staff, candidates, agents and observers, with direct access from the car park or loading area. 

Processing Areas

Verification, reconciliation and results tables

This is where the verification staff will verify the contents of the ballot boxes and reconcile the total number of votes. If laptops are to be used, you should take cabling arrangements into account and consider contingency arrangements in the event of equipment failure. 

If you need to communicate local count totals to an RO responsible for collating the results you will also require an area for this communication to take place.

RO’s table

This is where you should keep law textbooks, Electoral Commission guidance, procedure notes, spare staff instructions, staff lists, stationery and other guidance materials available for reference.

Count tables

These should provide proper separation for the staff and counting agents. Where space permits, chairs could be provided close to these tables for counting agents and observers.

You may wish to use measures to separate staff working at counting tables and those observing. However, these measures should not negatively impact on the ability of candidates and agents to oversee and scrutinise the verification and count processes, including the adjudication of doubtful ballot papers.  

Postal voting area

Where postal votes are to be opened and the personal identifiers checked at the verification venue, you should allocate a separate area for processing unopened postal votes received from polling stations. You will need to allocate adequate space to receive, open and verify the identifiers on these postal votes, and to allow observation of these processes. 

This guidance will be updated with the Postal Vote Handling measures from the Elections Act once the relevant secondary legislation has been laid and processes finalised. We will confirm when this will be published via the EA Bulletin.

You will need to consider network and cabling arrangements if using verification software for personal identifier verification.

Tables for counted ballot papers

Once ballot papers have been sorted and counted into votes for individual parties and/or candidates, as appropriate, they should be placed in bundles (e.g. 100 ballot papers) and put on a separate table, so that all of the votes for each party or candidate are kept together.  

Candidates and agents are likely to expect all the bundles for all the parties and/ or candidates (as appropriate) to be placed in one central location so they can see the comparative numbers of votes for each party and/or candidate.  This needs to be considered particularly when the verification and count has been sub-divided into areas smaller than the electoral area.

Other areas

Area for candidates, agents, observers and guests

If possible, consider setting aside a separate area for candidates, agents, observers and guests with access to television coverage of the elections.

Area for refreshments

Consider providing an area where counting assistants and other staff can have a drink and a snack – they may be advised to bring some drink and food along or this could be provided for them. The verification and count can be a lengthy process and it is important to have adequate refreshments available to help to maintain staff energy and concentration levels. 

To avoid the possibility of any spillages you should not allow counting assistants to eat or drink at the counting tables.  However, you could consider allowing the consumption of bottled water (with non-spill tops) at the count tables. Many ROs also provide facilities for candidates, agents, observers and other attendees to purchase refreshments on site.

Media area

The requirements for the media area will depend upon the types of media represented and their respective needs. For example, if television cameras are present, any lighting should not cause undue heat or glare which might impair the efficiency of the count, and cameras must not be allowed to film close-ups of the ballot papers. In addition, it is important that there are no trailing cables for count attendees to trip over, and that any equipment installed is safely positioned.

You could consider establishing areas for media representatives that allow the opportunity to oversee the proceedings from a distance and fulfil their role to report on the progress and results throughout the event.

Declaration area

A raised platform on which the local totals/results can be declared. If space allows you should gather candidates together for the announcements and allow acceptance and concession speeches. 

If you decide that these traditional arrangements will not be feasible at your venue, you should ensure that you are nevertheless able to communicate the results of the polls in line with legislative requirements and that all stakeholders, including media representatives, are aware of your planned arrangements in advance.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023