The Daily Telegraph’s hostile piece about some of the payments being made to Returning Officers from the General Election highlights the unusual way in which key staff are paid for their role in organising elections:
At least six of the officials responsible for the chaos which left hundreds unable to vote have collected substantial bonuses for their work on polling day.
The use of the word “bonus” here is debatable. From one perspective, the payments made to Returning Officers are not bonuses but rather the standard fee payable for running an election. However, the role of being Returning Officer goes with having a job – typically council chief executive – that is usually well paid to begin with (often six figure salaries) and where anyone taking on the job knows that it will involve them being Returning Officer. So from the other perspective they are doing what they expected to have to do – but do indeed get a bonus payment on top of their usual pay packet.
The idea that there is a special extra payment for running an election stretches back to a time when contested elections were far less frequent (fewer elected bodies and uncontested seats more common). When having to run an election was an unusual requirement, an extra payment made sense. Now that regularly running elections is the norm it looks a rather unsatisfactory arrangement.
As the Daily Telegraph adds:
John Turner, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said: “The whole question of returning officer fees needs to be reviewed and brought up to date. It is just another aspect of elections where we need to ask whether it is fit for purpose and appropriate in the modern age.”