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

Planning for the verification and count

There are a variety of methods for arranging verification and count processes at an election, and there is no one size fits all approach which can be applied. Every electoral area has its own set of local circumstances that will influence the decisions that you must make as part of your planning for how you will deliver the verification and count processes.

When planning for the delivery of the verification and count you should keep your general planning assumptions under review to ensure they continue to be realistic and robust. This should include assumptions on turnout, the number of candidates, speed and capability of count staff and expected timing for completing the various count stages. 

Such a review will help inform a realistic assessment of whether you will be able to deliver the overall plan for the count, and whether and when it may be necessary to implement contingency plans. In all cases, your plan should be flexible enough to allow you to respond if any of your assumptions change, covering what contingency actions you will take in such circumstances.

Your plan should also identify key points during the count process at which you will review progress against the expected schedule. This progress review should be used to keep candidates, agents and the media informed of the progress of the count. 

Decision-making

You should keep a record of all steps taken in order to be able to provide an audit trail demonstrating your decision-making process. You should be able to explain your decisions, and you should be prepared to do so in response to enquiries.

To help build confidence in your plan for the verification and count, you should share information and consult and engage on your plan with stakeholders. You should communicate throughout your planning process and be prepared to explain the reasons for the decisions you are taking. For key decisions, you should provide your reasons to stakeholders in writing. 

You should also identify in advance those decisions about the management of the count that must be taken in consultation and agreement with candidates and agents, and make clear to them on what basis you will be making decisions. This includes, for example, decisions on re-counts and the suspension of the count. While you should seek input from those affected or interested to inform your decision-making, ultimately the responsibility for making decisions remains with you as (A)RO. You will need to decide the best way to communicate these decisions once taken.

Documentation 

You should produce templates for all the documents to be used at the verification and count in advance and ensure staff are familiar with them. Colour coding the documentation can be an effective way of quickly locating the relevant documents. 

Equipment and set up

You will need to decide what equipment you will require to administer the verification and count (as appropriate) and to communicate with the candidates and agents and anybody else attending the count, including:

  • public announcement systems
  • phone lines
  • mobile phones and mobile signals
  • general IT equipment and spreadsheets for recording verification and count figures
  • equipment for verifying the personal identifiers on returned postal votes (if the final  opening of postal votes is to take place at the verification venue)
  • screens for displaying any relevant information throughout the count

We have prepared a checklist to help relevant staff ensure that all materials, including stationery and equipment required at the verification and count venue are present. 

We have also developed guidance to support you should you need to procure any equipment.  

Last updated: 19 December 2023