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Elections 2019


The next ordinary local government elections in England will be held on 2 May 2019. In Wales, the next elections will be in 2021.

For those who do not vote by post or by proxy, voting takes place in polling stations established in convenient locations in the relevant constituencies, wards or other electoral areas. In many cases, the polling stations are in buildings whose primary use is for recreational purposes, such as community centres, leisure centres, village halls and church halls.

Polling districts for parliamentary elections

Section 18A of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1983 provides that, for the purpose of parliamentary elections, it is the duty of every district council and London borough council in England and every county and county borough council in Wales to divide their area into polling districts for so much of any constituency within the area, to designate polling places for those polling districts and to keep the polling districts and places under review in accordance with the following rules:

(a) They must provide, so far as is practicable, reasonable facilities for all voters and, in particular, for voters with disabilities.

(b) Each parish or community must, in the absence of special circumstances, be a separate polling district or districts.

© The polling place for a polling district must be within that district unless special circumstances make it desirable to provide otherwise.

(d) A polling place need not be designated for any polling district if the size and other circumstances of the district are such that the situation of the polling stations does not materially affect the convenience of electors or any body of those electors.

Section 18D of the RPA 1983 provides that if any “interested authority“, or not fewer than 30 electors in a constituency, makes a representation to the Electoral Commission that the foregoing powers have not been exercised so as to meet the reasonable requirements of the electors of that constituency or any body of those electors, the Commission must consider the representation. The Commission may, if it thinks fit:

(a) direct the relevant council to make any alterations which the Commission thinks necessary in the circumstances; and

(b) if the council fails to make the alterations within a month after the direction is given, to make the alterations itself.

An “interested authority” is, in England, a parish council or, where there is no such council, a parish meeting and in Wales a community council.

The council must publish in the constituency a notice showing the boundaries of the polling districts or polling places within its area. It is likely that most councils publish this information on their websites.

Where any alteration is made to a polling district or polling place, the electoral registration officer for the area must make any necessary adaptations of the register of parliamentary electors.

An election cannot be questioned by reason of non-compliance with the foregoing rules or of any informality relative to polling districts or polling places.

Polling districts for local government elections

Section 31 of the RPA 1983 provides that a council’s responsibility for dividing its areas into polling districts lies as follows:

(a) for the election of county councillors in England, on the county council;

(b) for the election of London borough councillors, on the London borough council;

© for the election of district councillors, on the district council;

(d) for the election of county and county borough councillors in Wales, on the county or county borough council;

(e) for the election of the Mayor of London or the London Assembly, on the London borough council or the Common Council of the City of London.

Elections to the Common Council and other institutions of the City of London are governed by separate laws and are not dealt with in this article.

No provision is made in the RPA 1983 for the establishment of polling districts for parish and community council elections. As for parliamentary elections (see above), each parish or community is treated as a separate polling district save that, where the parish or community is divided into wards, each ward is in practice such a district.

Returning officer

Sections 24, 27 and 28 of the RPA 1983 make provision for the appointment of returning officers for each parliamentary constituency. Where the constituency is coterminous with or wholly contained within a local government area, the returning officer is:

(a) in the case of a county constituency in England, the sheriff;

(b) in the case of an English borough constituency which is coterminous with a district, the chairman of the district council;

© in the case of a London borough, the mayor of the borough;

(d) in the case of a county constituency in Wales which is coterminous with a “preserved county” (i.e. a county which existed before Welsh local government areas were altered in 1996), the sheriff;

(e) in the case of a Welsh borough constituency which is coterminous with a county or county borough, the chairman of the county or county borough council;

(f)  in a  constituency which is coterminous with a London borough, the mayor of the borough;

(g) in a constituency which is partly within one London borough and partly within another, the person designated by the Secretary of State.

Section 28 provides that the duties of returning officers are normally discharged, as acting returning officers, by electoral registration officers.

Polling stations at parliamentary elections

Schedule 1 to the RPA 1983 sets out the rules for the conduct of parliamentary elections. The rules relevant to the provision, etc. of polling stations are as follows:

(a) Under rule 22, the returning officer may use, free of charge, a room in a school to which the rule applies (i.e. a school maintained or assisted by a local education authority or a school in respect of which grants are made out of monies provided by Parliament to the person or body of persons responsible for the management of the school) and a room for which the expense of maintenance is payable out of any rate. Since domestic rates have long since been abolished, the reference here to a “rate” is presumably now intended to cover both the council tax and non-domestic rates. In any event, the wording is broad enough to encompass leisure, sports and community buildings owned or managed by a local authority. The returning officer must make good any damage done to the premises and must meet the expenses incurred by the persons in control of the premises by reason of their use as a polling station.

(b) Under rule 25, the returning officer must provide a sufficient number of polling stations and must allot the electors to the polling stations in the way which he thinks is most convenient. One or more polling stations may be in the same room. A sufficient number of voting compartments to enable electors to vote without being overlooked must be provided.

Polling stations at local government elections

Under section 36 of the RPA 1983, the Secretary of State must make rules for the conduct of local government elections. The rules must apply the foregoing parliamentary election rules with such adaptations, alterations and exceptions as the Secretary of State thinks fit. The relevant rules for parish and community elections are the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) (England and Wales) Rules 2006 (as amended).

Not all polling stations are in publicly funded buildings. In the case of a room or building which is privately owned or managed (such as a members’ sports or social club), the use of the premises for election purposes is a matter for negotiation between the returning officer and the owner or manager.

Election of councillors

The law relating to the conduct of elections, including the process of nomination of candidates, is set out in the amended 2006 Rules. In particular, the Rules prescribe a timetable for an election. In calculating the foregoing periods of time, the following days are not counted: Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday, a bank holiday, a day appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning. For 2019 the dates are as follows:

(1) Publication of notice of election: not later than the 25th working day before the election26 March.

(2) Delivery of nomination papers: not later than 4pm on the 19th working day before the election – 3 April.

(3) Publication of statement of persons nominated: not later than 4pm on the 19th day before the election – 3 April.

(4) Delivery of notice of withdrawal of candidates: not later than 4pm on the 19th day before the election – 3 April.

(5) Notice of poll: not later than the sixth day before the election – 24 April.

(6) Polling: between 7am and 10pm on the day of the election – 2 May.

Nomination and withdrawal forms are available from the returning officer. Potential candidates, and those withdrawing as candidates, are strongly advised not to leave the delivery of nomination or withdrawal papers to the last minute. If applications are delivered in good time, any errors can be corrected and the application re-submitted before it is too late. The returning officer has no power to extend the timetable.



Written by Paul Clayden, expert in local council law

As appeared in Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2019

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