Elections are changing and you’d be well served wherever you are in the UK to do some simple things to bring yourself up to speed.
At first glance, much is the same with polling day. The same church hall with the same pencil stubs to write an X on the ballot paper just as people have always done. It’s as traditional as a cup of tea, no?
But the big change in 2023 is Voter ID. Before you stop reading this won’t affect you if you’re local government in England, Wales and Scotland it will. In Northern Ireland it already does.
Critics to Voter ID would point out that there have been just 11 prosecutions in the past five years. The Electoral Reform Society argue that asking people to bring ID will reduce the turnout from marginal members of society. Whatever the debate, the law is here and needs to be carefully handled. It’ll be councils that get the kicking.
Talking to Kelly Quigley Hicks from the Association of Electoral Administrators for a piece of work for LGiU there’s a few pointers all communicators need to know. She had some excellent ideas.
The law change explained
In England from May 2023, you’ll need to take a piece of Government-approved ID if you’re voting in person. There’s a handy voter ID Electoral Commission summary here. Postal votes aren’t affected.
All this means there’s a really strong chance people will turn up without the right ID and tempers are likely to flair. Yes, if people don’t have a passport they can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate by April 25. But they’ll need to apply for one. You’ll need to tell them how.
While Scottish and Welsh councils aren’t adopting voter ID for council elections they’ll be mandated to for any general election after October 2023. There is a temptation to sit back and look through binoculars at potential chaos unfolding in England. It’ll be your turn for a General Election.
- Before election day, offer to partner up with a council that’s introducing Voter ID at polling stations
If you’re not staging a Voter ID election make friends with one that is. If you’re a communicator who lives nearby see if you can go along to the count to see how the changes take place. That’s harder if you’re Sctland or Wales but a Zoom call is an easy thing to do after the event to see what’s worked.
There’s several useful resources to explain voter ID. Having a one pager drawn up with elections that every comms person, polling station staff member and candidate has feels pretty mission critical.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
If you’re a council where Voter ID is being brought in tell people. Over and over. Keep a record of how often you told people and how. I can promise you you’ll get challenged. So don’t just think that this is someone else’s job.
If you’re not running one then take a look at what others are doing. Chat to one that is to see what they’re learning.
- On the day, embed comms in the elections team
Kelly suggests having a comms person embedded in elections on election day. That way you can respond far quicker to developing issues as they come through. Having been a council comms person sat in the police gold control during an emergency I can see the value in that.
There’s likely to be a lot of misinformation and disinformation flying around and being able to target that in real time will be really helpful.
If you’re not running one then chat to one that is to see what they’re learning.
Good luck. We’re all counting on you.