Last minute EU elections ‘a big challenge’ in the midst of Sheffield Council election planning

Zero hour EU elections have presented a big challenge for Sheffield City Council due to planning for council elections starting up to six months before voting day.

Deputy Returning Officer James Henderson said: “We had to begin planning for the European elections a few weeks ago now, but obviously that has come right bang in the middle of the point when we were gearing up to run the local elections.”

The Deputy Returning Officer is appointed by the council to manage the entire election process, from sending out polling cards to election day itself. 

Mr Henderson said: “We’ve effectively had to do dual running of making sure we’re doing everything that we need to for the local elections, then doing a similar job three weeks later for the European elections.”

Work for the European elections includes re-booking polling stations, sending out fresh polling cards, and writing to EU electors to see whether they wish to vote in the UK or their home country.

Mr Henderson said: “That has all added a huge amount of extra work that we weren’t anticipating that we’d have to do. 

“Having to run two sets of elections, three weeks apart, is a big challenge.”

Despite this, Mr Henderson said the integrity and safety of the local elections has not been compromised.

“But it has really stretched the team,” he added.

The UK government will reimburse ‘any reasonable costs’ incurred as a result of running the European elections. Mr Henderson and his team have had to bring in additional support to deal with the workload.

Part of their job is to make sure that people know how to register and to ensure they can participate in the democratic process. He said: “It’s about making it really simple and easy for people.

“It can be a very intimidating experience, especially if it’s your first time voting.”

One way in which council staff are making it easier for people to vote this year is by launching electronic voting verification in City Ward.

Instead of the polling stations’ staff marking off voter’s names and numbers on the register, they will instead scan their polling card and issue them with a ballot paper.  For voters who do not have a polling card, their name can be looked up through an online system.

Mr Henderson said: “I think it’s likely that it is the way forward. We are confident that it will deliver, we have done a lot of testing.”

If anything goes wrong on the day, there will be paper alternatives.

“In Sheffield, we have a very diverse range of candidates from all sorts of backgrounds.”

“It’s not just older people as it has sometimes been portrayed in the press. We have younger councillors, councillors of different ethnic backgrounds, a good mix of men and women as well, and I think that’s something that we should be proud of here in Sheffield.”

He added: “Voting is an important part of our democratic process. It is a privilege that many people have fought for over the last century and a half.

“Those rights were hard fought and we would encourage people to make use of them.”  

Polling stations are open now and will close at 10pm tonight.