How voting is organised for this year's local elections in Ipswich

Russell Williams

Ipswich council chief executive and returning officer Russell Williams. - Credit: David Garrad

This is the second in a series of articles I am writing about the elections in May 2021.

Last time, I wrote about postal votes and the fact that Ipswich Borough Council has written to every household in the borough giving people an opportunity to sign up to get a postal vote for the elections that will be held on May 6.

Voting by post is probably the most ‘Covid-secure’ of the various ways to vote.

Before these letters went out, we had 16,963 people registered to vote by post – or 17% of the 99,469 people that are registered to vote in Ipswich.

We have received 16,869 postal vote applications back following sending these letters. This means that over 34% of people will now be voting by post - this year - in Ipswich borough.

I am really pleased with this increase – and there is still time for others to choose to vote by post.

So, if you did get a form from us to fill in – and you haven’t yet – then please do think about completing it and returning it as soon as possible.

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I’ve worked for the borough council for 25 years but had never really done much election work until I was thrown in the deep end of being the Ipswich returning officer for the 2010 general election.

Over the last decade, I have been responsible for organising well over a dozen elections – and each time I employ nearly 250 people to help run things.

Many of the 250 have been doing elections for years and years – some have done many decades. There are seven main roles people do at each election.

Over 140 people to work in the 70 polling stations spread across Ipswich. Each station normally has at least two people working at it.

The presiding officer is the one in charge of the polling station – responsible for making sure the station is open from 7am to 10pm and that only those eligible to vote at that station get a vote. They are assisted by a poll clerk.

It is a long day for two people to work – they arrive by 6.30am and whilst the poll clerk will normally have finished by 10.15pm, the presiding officer still has to return the ballot box to the count venue. That can take till after 11pm.

I also employ about 10 people as polling station inspectors. They are out and about in different areas of the town, visiting every polling station two or three times during the course of the day – checking everything is going smoothly and providing support to the polling station team.

Back in the office are the half dozen strong election team, who provide telephone support to polling station staff and to voters who need advice on the day.

I also have a team of about 10 people who are responsible for sorting out all the returned postal votes ready for the election count.

When it comes to the election count, I traditionally employ around 51 count assistants who work in teams of three to count all the votes. They are supported by a team of eight count supervisors, who are responsible for collating all the count results and advising me of the provisional result.

On top of all of this, is a small layer of management and other support staff. I will write more about the count in a future article.

Next time, I will write about the polling stations that we will be using on May 6. There are quite a lot of changes planned for this year, because of Covid.