Electoral Services – Working hard to support democracy in Charnwood

Published: Thu 26th January, 2023

Throughout 2023, we will be continuing a series of features about Council services to explain a bit more about what we do.

This time it’s the turn of our Electoral Services team.


The Council’s Electoral Services team organises and facilitates all elections in Charnwood. Whether that’s local elections for borough, parish and county, referendums as well as general elections.

The team also keep the borough’s electoral register up to date. There is currently around 131,000 people on the register.

We had a chat with Elections and Land Charges Manager, Katie Owens, to find out more about the service.

So, tell us all about Electoral Services!

We are a small and busy team which organises all elections in Charnwood. Whether that is a by-election for a borough ward, the local elections which take place every four years or a general election which must be held at least every 5 years.

When elections take place, they take months of preparation and planning  (unless it’s a snap election) and so it doesn’t all happen over a few days.

And it’s not just the elections. We also keep Charnwood’s electoral register up to date by co-ordinating an annual check called the canvass. It aims to ensure everyone who needs to be on the register is on there and their details are accurate. You can’t have an election without having an up-to-date register. The two very much go hand in hand.

The team also carries out the annual absent vote signature refresh. This is when we contact everyone with a proxy or postal vote whose signature has been on our system every five years. Around 4,400 people were contacted in 2022 who have been on the system since 2017. It is required by law and happens between January and March each year. 

We also administer and verify statutory land searches which solicitors apply for when people buy a property.  These are paid for because we check the information providing a guarantee that it is correct.

In addition, we receive thousands of requests for personal land searches each year. These follow similar principles to the paid searches, but we don’t verify the data and the information can only be viewed in person at the Council offices.

On top of all of this, we have also recently undertaken a Polling District Review. We have a large number of polling districts, places and stations which were reviewed following changes to the borough’s ward boundaries which will come into effect for the local elections in May 2023.

There are also other things which crop up throughout the year such as unplanned by-elections and neighbourhood planning referendums.

So, there’s much more to do than just running an election once a year?

Absolutely! Although organising elections is a large part of the job, it’s not the only thing we do and is one of the biggest misconceptions.

An election is an all-year-round process and requires many months of planning.

From booking venues for polling stations, recruitment and training of polling station staff, booking equipment to ordering polling cards. There is a lot of activity behind the scenes in the lead up to the election.

If there is a snap general election everything which is usually organised and prepared months in advance must be done in 25 working days, and it can be quite stressful.

Venues for polling stations are usually booked six months in advance of an election. For a snap election, venues which are normally used may already be booked and we have to find suitable and alternative venues at short notice.

Are there any other misconceptions about elections?

Let’s talk about the pencils at polling stations! It is traditional to use pencils, but this tradition has remained because they are cheaper, more practical and last longer. However, this isn’t to say people can’t bring along their own pen to a polling station. There are lots of checks in place including seals on ballot boxes which are checked at the verification and count.

Another is when people receive an electoral register form, they think it means they are legally required to vote but voting is someone’s personal preference. However, they are legally required to be registered if they are over the age of 16 and eligible to vote.

People also think that because they’ve notified the Council Tax department they’ve moved house, the electoral register is automatically updated. However, this isn’t the case. Someone living with their parents may be eligible to vote but may not be liable for Council Tax and therefore we can’t always rely on other sets of data. That’s why the annual check of the electoral register is essential to ensure it is kept up to date.

What’s the most challenging part of working in Electoral Services?

Definitely managing capacity. Similar to many elections teams across the country, we are a small but dynamic team and we are always really busy.

When there is so much to do and you are spinning lots of different plates, your priorities constantly change from one day to the next trying to stay on top of it all.

Working in elections means we have to be politically neutral and this also means giving more thought to the clothes you wear on polling day compared to any other day.

Anyone working on polling day must only wear politically neutral colours and cannot be perceived to be supporting a political party through their wardrobe choices that day.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

When the election results are declared, and you see the end product of your work. Although elections, verification and the count can be long days and evenings, for the team, the process has been happening for months. There’s nothing quite like the buzz and atmosphere of the count. It’s amazing!

Once an election comes to an end, it means we start getting ready for the next one. This includes auditing all the polling station paperwork, equipment, signage to ensure everything is there and ready to go whether it is scheduled in or not.

In 2019, we delivered the borough and parish elections alongside the last EU parliamentary election. We thought that was it for the year but along came a snap general election in December. So, we always have to be ready, which is why we immediately get as much prepared as we can once one election finishes.

Running the Police and Crime Commissioner and County Council elections in May 2021 was difficult but enjoyable at the same time. As they took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, we had a whole host of different things to consider including around face coverings, social distancing and one-way systems.

Talk us through what polling day is like for the team?

We start at 6am and are on standby in case issues crop up at one of the 78 polling stations across the borough. Around 300 people are employed specifically to work in the polling stations so this could include temporary staff being unable to get into the polling station, potentially not turning up or calling in sick.

Polls open at 7am and the first few hours are always busy with a wide range of queries. There’s a lot of problem solving with peaks and troughs throughout the day. 

We’ll make our way to the verification at the Count venue (for large elections it is usually Loughborough Leisure Centre) for 10pm which is the same time as the polls close. The verification process is the counting of the total number of ballots cast in each election. This stage must be completed before a count can commence.

Once verification is completed, for the local elections we return the next day to get the counting underway from 9am. At general elections we usually count through the night, and it can finish at 4 or 5am or sometimes later.

The count can take a while depending on the election. For example, multi- member borough and parish elections can take all day and into the night.

During the verification and count, the team all have different roles to ensure the next stages of the election run smoothly.

I’ll be on the top table sorting out figures and verifying results. A member of the team may be assisting with counting and others will be table supervisor assistants. This is all overseen by Rob Mitchell, our chief executive, in his role as the ‘returning officer’ for elections.

Around 112 people are employed as count assistants to help with this part of the process. There are also 14 table supervisors.

The team end up running about over the couple of days leading into and during the election and you definitely reach your daily step target in a few hours.

Can people get involved with helping to run elections?

Yes. Lots of hands-on deck are required to run elections so the more the merrier! We usually have around 500 people who we recruit just to work at polling stations for the day or at the count. We also recruit to help count postal votes in the run-up to polling day.

These are all paid roles, and some positions require training.

We need a large number of people to help with tasks in the run up to and during an election. This includes opening and verifying postal votes, staffing around 78 polling stations and assisting with the verification and counting of ballot papers on polling day once polls close at 10pm.

People interested in getting involved with the upcoming elections in May 2023, can pop along to our website to find out more about the different roles and how to apply. www.charnwood.gov.uk/electionroles

Have there been any major changes to electoral laws in recent years?

There have been a few changes recently including individual registration. This was introduced in 2014 and means people can now only register themselves to vote rather than the whole household and sometimes their pet dog! (True story but we contacted them and advised the dog could not be registered to vote).

The most recent and major change is the introduction of photo ID which is part of the Elections Act 2022. The change will require people visiting polling stations in the May 2023 local elections to bring an accepted form of photo ID with them. There have been trials of photo ID across the country but it’s the first time everyone will have to do it. The aim is to cut down on voter fraud which is not something this area has had an issue with, but there is a perception of fraud up and down the country.

It’s a major change and residents are already being encouraged to check they have an accepted form of ID. If they don’t then they can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate which is free of charge and can only be used for elections.

Would you recommend working in elections as a career?

I would but you’ve got to have a strong work ethic and enjoy a challenge. There’s good career progression because there are around only 2,000 qualified people in the UK to do what we do!

There’s an industry specific qualification called the Association of Electoral Administrators Certificate which enables you to run elections.

Every day is different and there is such a variety. It’s really satisfying that you’ve been involved in delivering fair democracy which then helps to make a difference to the local community and the country as a whole

Don’t get me wrong, it can be quite stressful! There’s a lot of pressure as it’s the law. If something goes wrong, it can really go wrong and there could be consequences including legal action and any resulting reputational damage. The democratic process is hugely important to the very fabric of British society and therefore it needs to be handled with great care.

Besides the stress and pressure, I genuinely enjoy it and can’t imagine doing anything else!