As the country looks forward to going to the polls in two weeks’ time, we take a look at the 400 people who will be involved in making sure everything goes to plan for Fylde’s 64,663 voters.
It’s the biggest election in Fylde for more than 35 years. The last time the General Election and the Fylde Council poll fell on the same day was back in 1979, when Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher was vying to oust Labour’s Jim Callaghan from No 10 Downing Street.
In addition to those polls, May 7 will see elections in 10 of the 16 parish and town councils across Fylde.
With a Fylde voting population of 64,663, 54 polling stations will be in use, open from 7am to 10pm and ranging in size from tiny rural bases to larger church hall and schools in Lytham, St Annes and Kirkham.
A total of 400 people will be involved in the running and administration of the election, including 70 counters called into action immediately after the polls close, with the result expected in the early hours of Friday, May 8, More than 60 will then be involved in counting the Fylde Council and parish votes the following afternoon.
To speed counting, ballot papers will be coloured differently – white for Parliamentary, yellow for Fylde Council and green for parish/town.
‘I have worked at a lot of elections and it is a strange feeling when the count is over. It is very difficult to just switch offTracy Morrison
It’s all the responsibility of Tracy Morrison, returning officer for the Fylde and parish elections and acting returning officer on behalf of the Government as far as the General Election is concerned, working alongside Fylde’s electoral services manager Hazel McNicholl and the council’s elections team, which is expanded as necessary from a permanent team of three by deployments from other departments.
Tracy has some 30 years’ experience in local government, has filled a wide variety of roles at many previous elections and was deputy returning officer to former chief executive Phil Woodward at the last General Election in 2010.
“This is certainly a special year,” said Tracy. “We have run multiple elections before, such as the poll for the European Parliament and the referendum on the Fylde Council’s governance format last year.
“But the profile of the General Election, along with the fact that the whole of our council is up for election, makes this an especially big event.”
The final countdown to election day started with the official notice of election on March 23, the same day that nominations opened, with closure date for nominations following on April 9.
But preparations for election day started as far back as August, with key matters including ensuring that voters are reminded about the need to be registered as well as making sure the required number of polling stations in each of Fylde’s 21 wards is available for use.
“This year, we have known for some time that the General Election as well as the Fylde Council elections which take place every four years would be happening on the same day,” said Tracy.
“That has allowed us to make sure that we are well prepared and all the necessary measures in place by the appropriate dates.”
A key change for this year, which came into effect last summer, is that voters are now individually responsible for their registration and have to include date of birth, address and National Insurance number to register. Previously, a spouse was able to vouch for their husband or wife but now it has to be done individually.
The deadline for new applications to register to vote passed last Monday, while Tuesday was the last day to apply for a postal vote. Next Tuesday is the deadline for applying for a proxy vote, although proxies on emergency medical grounds can be taken up to 5pm on polling day.
“One thing we have particularly noticed in recent years is a steady increase in the number of postal voters, which is now up to about 20 per cent of the electorate,” said Tracy.
Postal voting forms are being sent out this week, with the first expected to arrive back at the Town Hall by as early as tomorrow. They will then undergo an administrative check face down before being included in the count proper on the evening of polling day.
“It is a case of taking one key step and deadline at a time and always maintaining a calm and methodical approach,” added Tracy, who admits that by election day, she will be “running on adrenaline alone”.
“I have worked at a lot of elections and it is a strange feeling when the count is over. It is very difficult to just switch off and when I get home, I will probably find myself switching on the TV and following the national picture.
“We are back for the Fylde Council count the following afternoon and then on the Monday, in my role as the council’s monitoring officer and director of resourcing, I will heavily involved in getting things going for the new council year.
“After the referendum result last year, there is the added ingredient of switching from cabinet to committee system so there will be no let-up in intensity – it is a very busy time to say the least.”
Seven candidates are standing for the Fylde seat in the General Election – Elizabeth Clarkson (Northern Party), Bob Dennett (Green Party), Mike Hill (Independent), Mark Andrew Menzies (Conservative), Jed Sullivan (Labour), Freddie Van Mierlo (Lib Dem), Paul Martin White (UK Independence Party).
Meanwhile, a total of 99 candidates are vying for 51 seats across Fylde’s 21 wards.