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Solace blog

15th May 2015

Reflections from Sunderland on the 2015 Elections

After one of the closest campaigns in years, the highest turnout since 1997 and a result which none of the pollsters had predicted, much has already been written about the General and local government elections held on 7th May 2015.

But whilst the outcome of the election may not have been one which many had taken for granted, what was, and indeed is always, expected of all of the elections which took place that is that they are carried out securely, accurately and efficiently.

The potential pressures and challenges on local authorities in delivering a successful election process were higher than ever this year. Not only were most authorities running at least one other election alongside the Parliamentary but this was also the first year that electoral services teams had to deal with the move to Individual Electoral Registration (IER).

The introduction of IER has been the biggest change to the system of registration in nearly 150 years. Whilst it offers many potential advantages, it has brought with it a number of implications and the need to ensure levels of registration are maintained and improved. On a practical level, this has required greater engagement with target electors and new IT systems and administrative processes to get to grips with. Through SOLACE’s Elections and Democratic Renewal Board, we have sought to continuously raise awareness of these issues with local authorities, but nevertheless, instigating this is an achievement in itself, let alone at a time when authorities are simultaneously preparing for a General Election.

Coupled with new systems of registration, this election also saw a high level of interest bringing with it a higher turnout. Whilst certainly something to welcome, greater voter participation presents its own pressures as the experience of the last General Election proved. A greater focus on the election also generates external pressures from local politicians, government and the media. The latter of which due to the rise in social media can be reported by anyone at any time.

Whilst we can’t control this, what local authorities can do and have done, is plan and constantly review, electoral processes to ensure we are as prepared as possible. Indeed, planning for this election started five years ago where lessons from 2010 have been taken on board and were successfully managed. In 2015, nothing about the electoral process distracted from the end result and the news coverage was focused entirely on what it should be – our newly elected politicians.

Dr. Dave Smith, Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council and Solace Spokesperson on Elections and Democratic Renewal