Minutes: Wales Electoral Coordination Board 9 November 2017

Minutes: Wales Electoral Coordination Board 9 November 2017

Date: 9 November 2017

Minutes: Wales Electoral Coordination Board 9 November 2017

Minutes of the last meeting (21 July 2017) and action points

The minutes of the previous meeting were accepted as a correct record.

WECB terms of reference

RT suggested categorising the WECB membership so that the Board would have the opportunity in future to respond to consultations. He proposed that Regional Returning Officers (RROs), the chair of the AEA and the chair of the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group could be categorised as members, and all others could be categorised as advisors.

MP said that a similar arrangement was in place for the Electoral Management Board (EMB) in Scotland.

The Board agreed to amend the terms of reference as proposed.

Action: Electoral Commission to draft amendment to Terms of Reference to categorise membership of the Board.

ECS suggested that an additional objective be added to reflect the mentoring and support that the Board would be providing to new Returning Officers (ROs) and Electoral Services Managers (ESMs).

Action: Electoral Commission to amend Terms of Reference to include an objective to reflect the monitoring and support that would be offered to new ROs and ESMs.

RT suggested that the terms of reference should also be amended to allow members to designate a regional deputy to attend meetings if they were unable to do so themselves.

Action: Electoral Commission to amend Terms of Reference to allow members to designate a deputy to attend meetings in their absence.

The Terms of Reference were accepted subject to the amendments being made.

RT asked whether a police Single Point of Contact (SPOC) should be a permanent member of the Board. TP thought it was more appropriate to invite a SPOC as and when necessary.

Returning Officer Mentoring

CE explained that prior to elections support was offered to new ROs and ESMs on an informal basis. He added that new Chief Executive Officers did not receive specific induction for elections but did for other areas of their work. 

MJ said that in some cases ROs could have had no prior involvement in elections. He had, in the past, provided informal training for ROs in conjunction with the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) and the Electoral Commission, but felt it would be good to have a more formal mentoring and training program in place for new ROs. He felt it was important that ROs were made aware of their personal level of responsibility and he said that new ROs needed to be aware of the potential significant consequences when issues arose and that decisions had to be made quickly.

MJ said that he and CU had drafted a welcome letter and supporting materials which could be sent to new ROs. They had also mapped out a formal process with a series of mentors and MJ had written to all ROs asking for volunteer mentors and received a good response. MJ and CU/RT would also meet with each new RO to explain the role and materials for ROs/EROs could be added to the WECB page on the Electoral Commission’s website.

MJ said that ROs would be informed of training events during the year, particularly the national SOLACE event for ROs, any Electoral Commission seminars in Wales, and AEA training courses. They would also be provided with practical advice and experiences from other ROs and with detail on the Electoral Commission’s performance standards framework.

Action: The new RO mentoring and training scheme would be launched to new ROs in January.

CE asked whether the RO mentoring scheme could be extended to new ESMs.

RG explained that the AEA already provided training to electoral staff but there was no mentoring scheme in place. Laura Lock the AEA training manager was currently looking at refining the training provided to new ESMs and the AEA were also willing to look at offering specific training in Wales, if requested.

MJ suggested that it would be beneficial to work with the AEA to develop materials to support new ESMs and RG said that the regional chairs of AEA Wales could be invited to develop the scheme .

CU suggested that this topic be discussed at the next WEPWG meeting on 12 December.

Action: Electoral Commission to add mentoring and support for new ESMs to the agenda of the next WEPWG meeting.

MP asked if she could see the materials that are being produced.

Action: Electoral Commission to send RO mentoring and training materials to MP.

CE explained that he had been working on a risk assessment of capacity in elections teams. He added that he and MP were both members of the Elections Coordination Advisory Board (ECAB) an assessment group that considered decisions made by the Electoral Commission on whether ROs had met the  Commission’s performance standards. Issues often arose in authorities where there was a new RO and / or ESM and the RO and/or ESM did not know how to prevent or respond. He suggested that these real life scenarios could be  anonymised and talked about during the practical aspect of the training. MP added that a number of the cases considered by ECAB arise because adequate  roof-checking procedures had not been put in place or due to poor supplier management.

Electoral Commission’s report on Local Government Elections Wales 2017

CE said that the local elections in May 2017 were well run, despite difficult circumstances with the UK Parliamentary General Election being called during the nomination period.

RT agreed that the elections were very well run. The Commission report published on 20 September had made a number of recommendations relating to the WECB and the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group (WLLAG).

WLLAG would be looking at the voter facing elements of Welsh legislation and would make recommendations to Welsh Government. Another recommendation related to the publication of turnout data following elections.

CE suggested that ROs could be provided with a template to complete and  publish online following the count. This would also help with press enquiries. One RO could co-ordinate this.

RT said that the Electoral Commission could collate and publish this data.

Action: Electoral Commission to work with AEA Wales to produce a turnout data template for ROs to complete.

Presentation by Mary Pitcaithly, Chair of Electoral Management Board, Scotland

MP gave a presentation on the history and current work of the EMB in Scotland.

Following the problems of the combined 2007 elections in Scotland, an interim Electoral Management Board for Scotland was established. This was later given a legislative foundation by the Local Electoral Administration (Scotland) Act 2011, giving the Board “the general function of co-ordinating the administration of Local Government elections in Scotland.”

The Board was composed of eight members; five Returning Officers (or their  deputies) and three Electoral Registration Officers. Advisors from the professional associations working in electoral administration, SOLAR and the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) also attend the Board meetings. Others, such as the police were invited to meetings when necessary.

The EMB’s prime focus was ensuring that the interests of the voter were kept at the centre of all elections planning.

The EMB had two specific roles:

  • assisting local authorities and other persons in carrying out their functions in relation to Local Government elections
  • promoting best practice in Local Government elections by providing information, advice or training (or otherwise)

Expectations of the EMB had grown over the years and the Board had taken on additional roles which were not statutory but that were necessary to administer elections and referendums. For example, the Chief Counting Officer for the EU referendum had to produce guidance for those administering the referendum and received support from both the Electoral Commission and the EMB.

For the local elections in 2017 the biggest issue was e-counting. There was one single supplier, the cost was £6m and the system would only be usable for those elections and any by-elections. The STV-PR Weighted Inclusive Gregory system was very difficult to count manually and would take a week without e-counting methods.

RT asked how appointments to the Board were made.

MP explained that the Board members were appointed by a Convener, who was in turn appointed by Scottish Ministers following a process of open competition.

ECS asked how often the Board met.

MP said that the Board met approximately 10 times a year. It was held on the same day as SOLACE meetings so that she could obtain opinions from all ROs before the meeting if needed.

FC asked how 16 and 17 year olds voted.

MP said that they voted in bigger numbers than 18-24 year olds, who in turn voted more than 25-39 year olds. They were registered in schools. The full register could not be published as it included details of 14 and 15 year olds but political parties were unhappy that they cannot obtain the full register.

RG asked whether the statutory basis for the Board was beneficial.

MP said that this had not been required during the first four years when they operated as an interim Board and there had been no significant changes when they had become a statutory Board.

Updates

Electoral Commission Update

CU said that the Electoral Commission had published a number of reports since the previous meeting:

July 2017:

Electoral registration at the UK general election
Focussed on the registration of voters, set out the Commission’s analysis of key data and identified suggested improvements for modernisation.

Sep 2017:

The 2017 Local Government Elections in Wales

October 2017: 

Voting in 2017 Summarised the post-election surveys conducted in 2017 and provided an overview of public attitudes to elections and voting.

CU added that the Commission would that day be publishing another report - ‘Elections for Everyone’ which looked at possible changes that could improve accessibility. Finally, in November a report on ‘The Administration of the June 2017 UK General Election would be published and this report would include a section on performance standards.

CU explained that the performance standards monitoring work for Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) was ongoing. The Commission had been working with a number of local authorities during the canvass and obtained management information from all 22 EROs. No issues had been identified so far and the  Commission would be reporting on the December registers in March 2018.

Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group (WLLAG) Update

WLLAG had met on 18 October. The main focus of the group was looking at the legislation for elections to the National Assembly for Wales, prioritising voter facing templates. Welsh Government translators were looking at the Electoral Commission’s glossary of terms to ensure uniformity of terms. This would assist the group when they were looking at the legislation.

AEA Wales Update

RG said that AEA’s report on the 2017 local elections made 33 recommendations. Issues currently being addressed included the response to the Welsh Government White Paper consultation, European Parliamentary elections, local elections in 2022, anonymous registration, overseas electors and the removal of the 15 year rule and Welsh language forms. There was also the issue of legislation in Wales compared to England - for the 2017 local elections in Wales 12 pieces of legislation were required to create the bilingual ballot paper whereas for local elections in England only one piece of legislation applied. Local authorities needed to respond to the Boundary Commission’s publication regarding revised parliamentary constituencies.

National SPOC Update

TP said that there had been some concerns reported about how long issues were with the police before resolution. The police wanted to continue educating candidates. Local PC Commanders attended RO briefing sessions for candidates and the College of Policing issued guidance to new police officers acting as SPOCs.

Forward work programme for 2018

The Board discussed items to include on the forward work programme for 2018.

These included:

  • managing elections that may be called
  • national Assembly for Wales and Local Government Electoral Reform
  • mentoring and training
  • Welsh language
  • capacity and succession planning
  • performance standardsguidance factsheet on social media
  • recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Electoral Reform

MP said that the EMB were working with ROs with high numbers of rejected votes. They were also looking at voter education, instructions for voters and the provision of training for polling station staff. There would also be a review of transparency of count processes and procurement, for example Absent Voter Identifier checking systems.

Action: Electoral Commission to consider producing a fact sheet on the use of social media

Action: MP to share Forward Work Programme for the EMB

Action: Electoral Commission to produce Forward Work Plan for 2018 

Electoral Reform Consultation

FC said that there had been over 1,000 responses to the consultation. Most proposals had had a positive response. It was expected that the Minister would announce the proposals he wished to take forward early in 2018.

CE thought it would be beneficial if some of the RROs could meet with the minister ahead of any announcement and asked for FC’s help to arrange this.

Any other business

Welsh Government Elections Accounts Claims Procedures

CE explained that the Welsh Government’s consultation on electoral reform included a proposal to simplify the fees and charges system for National Assembly for Wales elections. Any new system introduced would require sufficient internal scrutiny.

FC said that the system has not changed significantly since 1999. There were benefits to a small team scrutinising all 22 claims as they were able to spot discrepancies. A move to a formula based approach had been proposed where ROs would have greater discretion as to spending but would need to publish a pending return. He suggested it would be useful to establish a working group to look at this issue.

Action: Add Elections Accounts Claims Procedures to the Forward Work programme.

Future Arrangements for Elections Feedback from the Elections Community

This issue had been discussed at the last WECB meeting. CE reiterated that feedback response rates had been poor across the UK and more could be done to improve on this.

Action: Add Elections feedback to the Forward Work programme.

Dates of future meetings

Action: Electoral Commission to produce a schedule of three meetings for 2018 with the first meeting to take place in March.

Last updated: 27 August 2020
Next review: 27 November 2020