Marked registers lost, votes counted up wrongly – but Returning Officer judged to have met performance standards

My original headline was going to be “One-third of (Acting) Returning Officers assess their own performance wrongly”, but the more closely I look at the latest Returning Officer performance data from the Electoral Commission, the worse it looks.

A sample survey by the Electoral Commission of the performance self-assessment exercise by (Acting) Returning Officers found that 33 out of 100 had assessed their own performance wrongly. The findings, detailed in the Commission’s report on the latest performance standards (p.6-7), call into question how useful the assessment system really is.

But even worse than this headline figure, in Wolverhampton the Returning Officer comes out as having met all the performance standards save for the one on accessibility of information to electors. Yet under that Returning Officer parts of the marked registers from two different Wolverhampton constituencies were lost and the votes in one of those constituencies, Wolverhampton South West, were counted wrongly (with the numbers still not adding up even after a post-election investigation).

The Electoral Commission is promising to be more active in enforcing standards next year:

We will be providing clear instructions and guidance that set out the plans and processes that those running the polls next year need to have in place well in advance.  And rather than assessing performance after the polls, we’ll be actively monitoring it during planning to catch any problems before they affect voters.

However, the widespread problems with self-assessment and the assessment given to Wolverhampton raises serious doubts about the structure and purpose of the system which the Electoral Commission is promising to enforce more rigorously.

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