My election experience as Returning Officer

The highlight this week was undoubtedly the county council election on Thursday, and the results day on Friday.  For me, it was the first experience of being a returning officer, and it was fascinating.  The counts were actually undertaken in 8 centres across the county, with the district and borough Chief Executives in charge of the administration, but the results were not final until I read out each result in the Oak Room of County Buildings.  There was something slightly surreal early in the day about reading out a string of results to an empty room, with just our election staff and a couple of journalists.  Later on, some of the successful candidates arrived to listen to the other results as they came in, which provided more atmosphere.   The final result was a significant swing to the Conservatives, who retain control under the leadership of Philip Atkins, who will have 51 of the 62 seats in the council;  there will be 10 Labour members and one independent.

The slightly disconcerting thing about being a returning officer is that one does it as an individual rather than in the chief executive role, which means that if a candidate mounts a challenge in the courts against the running of the election, the returning officer is responsible for his or her own defence.  Insurance, and an eye for detail are therefore key requirements for the role.  It’s all a far cry from my previous election experience.  I was responsible for the security of the first democratic presidential election for the northern 5 provinces of Afghanistan in 2004, while I was commanding the NATO forces there.  I suppose, looking back, that the stakes were higher in terms of danger, but nonetheless, Thursday and Friday were exciting enough as a returning officer.  All went well thanks to the hard work of staff up to and on the day and it was pleasing too that voter turnout was up on the last election at around 35%.

I was in on Saturday morning to sign the new councillors’ declarations of acceptance of office, and it was good to meet so many new members, all keen to do their best for their residents.  This coming week, we have an induction day for the new members where we brief them on multiple issues, and get a chance for SLT and them to get to know each other.

And of course the hard work starts now, working with the Cabinet to deliver their programme for Staffordshire.   With a general election, Brexit, and the county’s economy growing well, I know that we face a challenging and rewarding period ahead of us.

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