BLM has a specialist Election Law team, well versed in working directly with insurers and local authorities to both prepare and plan a legally compliant approach in advance of the elections, and be on-call to assist with any issues on polling day and as the all-important counts are done and results declared
Elections in the UK are organised under strict regulatory controls to ensure a fair and accurate outcome. Normally the Presiding Officer, Returning Officer or Local Authority is responsible for delivering a risk-free election process, weighing up the potential risks and ensuring effective cover with insurers.
Our team work with local authorities and insurers to identify key risks, as follows:
- A large volume of elections taking place at the same time, increases the risk of error as most local authority staff will be running at least two polls, often combining different voting systems
- The COVID-19 pandemic has created both staff shortages and reduced availability of polling stations, which threatens the ability of local authorities to return accurate counts within a timescale that doesn’t contravene the law: Council elections, for example, need to be declared within four days of the vote
- Extra measures need to be in place to ensure polling stations and counting locations are COVID-19 safe – a complex process to plan, enforce and prove – with the potential to expose staff and voters to harm if plans are not executed correctly
- An increased awareness amongst both voters and election candidates of the opportunity to challenge an election result will likely see an increase in the number and type of challenges that are witnessed.
Our team has experience of the management and workings of The Election Court, a branch of the Queen’s Bench Division, which has been established to hear petitions challenging a local government or parliamentary election. Hearings relating to election law need to take place within the Ward or Borough where the issue has arisen. Witnesses are called to give evidence similar to a civil trial. There is no right of appeal on the facts but issues of law can be challenged by way of Judicial Review.
Want to know more? Speak with our specialist Election Law team.
Contact Ben Parks, Partner, BLM firstname.lastname@example.org / 0161-838-6875
Challenging counts and ballot storage
An independent candidate at a local government election brought a claim to challenge the validity of the election. It was alleged that the Returning Officer had breached the Representation of the People Act 1983 by not commencing the count on time, storing the ballot boxes in insecure locations. In addition, the Returning Officer had failed to provide the disappointed candidate with an up to date and complete absent voters list and maps of the recent boundary changes.
The commissioner rejected all the arguments advanced by the disappointed candidate noting that the planning for and conduct of the election was of a high standard. The petitioner made various attempts to challenge the commissioner’s decision by way of Judicial Review but was unsuccessful each time.
Electioneering at the polling station
Having received only 0.5% of the vote, a disappointed candidate in a Parliamentary election presented a petition challenging the result on the basis that the successful candidate’s team of tellers had been distributing leaflets at polling stations, which is contrary to guidance issued by The Electoral Commission.
As the petition did not directly question the role of the Presiding Officer, BLM were able to avoid becoming embroiled in the petition to the Election Court. Ultimately the petition was dismissed with the petitioner being ordered to pay the MPs costs (which in part was funded by the security for costs that the petitioner had to pay into court).