Observing elections to improve democracy
The mission deployed a series of observers to attend several aspects of the electoral process in Tower Hamlets. Before polling day a team of 2 attended the Council’s briefing to presiding officers and polling clerks (17/04/18). This team subsequently held a meeting with Robert Curtis – Tower Hamlets’ Head of Electoral Services – to find out what specific arrangements were being put in place before and during the election in the council’s polling stations.
A team of two attended the opening of postal votes. On polling day an experienced team of 5 observers (one of whom also acted as a translator), working in two teams, attended polling stations across Tower Hamlets. The teams attended 39 polling stations out of a possible 109. This constitutes 36% of polling stations. The team observed 764 voters attending the polls in Tower Hamlets.
All our observers were accredited by the Electoral Commission before attending any aspect of this process. Each observation was conducted in pairs to allow for objective observation and the observers then agreed their opinions of the electoral process before submitting data.
The observations generally took between thirty and forty-five minutes per polling station as the observers were asked to ensure that they attempted to see the entire process, which included staff greeting electors on arrival at the polling station. This happened on every occasion.
The organisation of polling stations was well run across the area of observation, voters could clearly see how to access voting and staff were trained to manage the process.
Polls were open from 7.00am to 10.00pm and the teams were asked to observe an opening as well as a closing of a polling station and tour polling stations throughout the day.
We were very impressed by the standard of training for presiding officers and polling clerks offered by Tower Hamlets Council. Elections staff were fully conscious of the specific challenges faced in their Borough to the democratic process. We would like to thank them for their assistance in making sure we had access to the electoral process across the Borough and would especially like to commend Robert Curtis and his staff for the professional approach to dealing with us and the electoral process. Virtually none of the problems we identified were their fault.
We did ask about the ‘Postal Vote Pilot’ being undertaken in the Borough but we felt that, in reality, the capacity of a council to assess to what extent voters being asked whether they had received ballots in the Borough was difficult. There were more than 35,000 voters having a postal vote. We believed this would need to be evaluated at a very granular level to assess whether it had an effect. We look forward to the Electoral Commission’s response to the pilot project in due course.
The primary problems in Tower Hamlets are actually produced by the parties and those that do not have sufficient knowledge of the importance of the secret ballot. We believe the presence of the police probably helped with any public order issues but cannot directly benefit the process in the polling station. We therefore have three recommendations: