As part of our work in 2021 we have been increasingly aware of the mounting costs that elections incur, whether this has been through our interlocutor meetings, media reports or from statements from the Association of Electoral Administrators.
As well as the local elections in England in May, and the parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales, the Democracy Volunteers team has observed numerous by-elections across Scotland in the run up to the May polls.
We have also become aware that councils, partly due to the ongoing budgetary challenges faced by many local authorities, have seen some reductions in the numbers of staff working in elections and, especially in a period when elections have become even more challenging than usual, this might prove to be difficult to organise and conduct effective elections.
We issued Freedom of Information requests to all councils in England responsible for running elections. We discovered that over the past 5 years there has been a 5.5% reduction in the number of staff working in elections and a 40% below inflation rise in funding for elections.
Commenting Dr John Ault, Director of Democracy Volunteers said:
‘A 5.5% reduction in the established staff running elections should be concerning to all of us. Elections are the basis of the society we live in and trust in them is partly based on the public’s knowledge that they are well run by local officials.’
‘Over the coming months and years the Government is going to expect elections staff to do even more work with the introduction of the Electoral Integrity Bill – with funding not keeping pace with inflation and staff reductions we should be aware that this will mean even more pressure on already overworked elections staff.’
(NOTE: In response to the FOIs, 196 councils replied with data and 51 replied stating that they were unable to locate the data or that it was not held by them.)