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

Quality assurance and proofing of election materials

It is vital that you undertake careful and thorough checks of all draft proofs of your election materials before they are signed off and ready to be printed and dispatched. This is often a very time-consuming and time-critical stage of the process as your suppliers will be working to tight timetables and will likely give you hard deadlines.

You should decide who from your team will be involved in the checking of proofs and the quality assurance of the production process. It is possible that you will need a number of team members to play a role, and it may be helpful to involve others not as close to the raw candidate information or base proofs to ensure that nothing has been missed.

Where possible, it is helpful to ensure that more than one person checks each set of proofs before approving them to ensure that errors are spotted. This can be especially helpful in mitigating the risk of errors being made when turning around a large number of proofs in a short timeframe. 

You can carry out checks in person by attending the premises of your supplier and accessing your printed material directly, though some suppliers may offer to conduct these checks for you as part of their service instead. 

Where you are using suppliers to conduct checks, you must ensure that you get a detailed breakdown of what print quality checks are being undertaken. These should include:

  • checking that the printed material is accurate by checking against a specimen copy of the final signed off live proof for each version of the material  
  • where necessary, checking that all personalised text has been printed correctly

Alternatively, you may have materials sent to you for checking before they are despatched from your premises. 

You should produce guidance notes for those members of staff checking election materials.

Checking base text

You should ensure that you check the base text of all material carefully; this is the text that will not change, regardless of contest, number or details of candidates, or elector information. 

For efficiency, some suppliers may produce your proofs from templates used for previous polls. Do not presume that the information output by your electoral software management system will automatically be correct. For example, there may have been legislative or boundary changes, or changes to your contact information. It is your responsibility to check that all the information is accurate and also that the election materials comply with all legislative requirements.  

Checking live proofs

You should have in place a process for checking live proofs of all forms of election material at the print stage to check that there are no errors and that they are being printed to the required specification. 

This should include items that have smaller print runs too, such as tendered ballot papers, postal proxies or additional postal vote print runs to include those who applied after the initial data files were provided. 

You need to decide how many items will be checked for each item/print-run/fill. As a minimum, for print checks, at least the first and last item for each version of the item should be checked to ensure that the print runs start and end as expected. 

Carrying out checks at the live proof stage will allow staff to check that the print run reflects the latest approved version of the item which will highlight if any of the signed-off proofs have been inadvertently altered, that there is no bleeding of ink and that the print quality is good and consistent.

You are likely to have many different sets of proofs for the same item, so you should be checking that the variable text on each set of proofs has been correctly included. It is helpful to have a spreadsheet of all the variable text per version ready for checking against. This could include, for example, a sheet containing:

  • a list of all of your contested elections
  • the number of vacancies per election
  • candidate names, descriptions and emblems 

It is important to pay particular attention to emblems as many may look similar at first glance. You should proof any spreadsheets to be used for quality assurance purposes against original data, such as nomination papers.
You should keep a record of stationery that has been checked to provide a clear audit trail of the processes that have been undertaken and which you can refer back to should any issues subsequently arise.

Last updated: 19 December 2023