One of the delights of an unconference is the shared learning. At #commscampnorth communicating elections emerged as a popular session.
by Kelly Quigley-Hicks
“Elections group hug” – the three words I used to sum up what I was looking for at CommsCamp North. I pitched it as a session, bringing together comms people from local and central government. The following key points came up, plus a few extra from my planning bag, which are worth considering.
The Electoral Commission’s Roll Call newsletter will keep you up to date with the latest country and UK-wide messaging and materials for voter registration. Sign up here.
The Commission also creates images, suggested posts for social media, template news releases, logos, leaflets and infographics. Some are more useful than others, but can be a handy starter for ten your own local messages and information.
The Commission’s www.yourvotematters.co.uk site for voters is also massively helpful, with FAQs and more. One key message they’re promoting after issues during the EU Referendum, is for overseas voters to apply for proxy rather than postal votes. Find General election resources here.
Trying to reach young voters? Bite the Ballot http://bitetheballot.co.uk/ is focussed on encouraging young people to register to vote and turn out to vote. Well worth a follow to see how they engage with their target audience.
Where do I vote?
Being able to check where your polling station is online is handy for voters and helpful for council contact centre teams on polling day. My council’s trackable link on social media registered over 350 clicks for the 4 May local elections. It may not sound much, but that’s 350 fewer frustrated voters and a reduced need for people to phone us up.
Tweet to illustrate: https://twitter.com/SouthCambs/status/859996067789713408
If Democracy Club have your Council’s polling station data they’ll turn it into an online postcode search, free of charge. You can then either point voters to www.wheredoIvote.co.uk and/or embed the finder into your own council website.
Some, if not all, of the election management software companies have added a report to run that creates the files that Democracy Club needs. ICT and GIS teams don’t need to be involved.
Yes, polling station information is printed on poll cards, but voters don’t always have them to hand. For 8 June, election teams have already had to send poll card data off to printers, so anyone who registers between now and 22 May will not get a poll card until much closer to the big day.
Add to the pot that a snap election means that some polling stations will be in different venues, and a polling station finder becomes even more handy.
Where are your previous results?
Let’s be honest, election results can often be buried deep down in the darkest recesses of a council’s website. Make it easy for voters to find them. Share them on your social media channels. However you do it, make them easily available.
Help voters with disabilities
Every registered voter has the same rights to access and take part in a democratic poll. Again, no need to reinvent the wheel. The following guides are useful for voters, carers and customer service teams and can be easily incorporated into your website and voting publicity.
Electoral Commission factsheet covering voting rights for people with disabilities here.
Mencap guides to registering to vote and voting here.
RNIB has pointers for people with sight loss about how to register to vote and how to vote.
Purdah, she wrote
It’s been a while since we’ve had a standalone General Election. For local government, this means that purdah may be approached differently to local election periods. Many councils are also just coming out of the 4 May purdah period, where clearer rules apply.
While the Local Government Association has updated its purdah advice, CommsCamp attendees felt that it could be clearer. Ultimately, each council must interpret the guidelines and apply consistent and well-communicated principles locally. And a key point, the comms team shouldn't be the sole keepers of purdah, your monitoring officer and legal team are key players in helping to approve, promote and advise. See Dan Slee’s purdah golden rules here.
Polling day images
Want to use photos of any unusual or new polling station, or get your #DogsAtPollingStations snaps in? Polling station inspectors are employed by election teams and visit each station across your patch, collecting postal votes and giving a helping hand to teams. I've found that they're also usually happy to take a few pics and WhatsApp them over. They could also help you to unearth gems like this from New Forest District Council https://twitter.com/newforestdc/status/860072481020932097
Dead heat? What then?
What does your elections team have planned in case two candidates poll the same number of votes? It’s rare, but it does happen.
Cutting a deck of cards, flipping a coin or putting a ballot paper for each candidate in a ballot box and drawing one are three possibilities.
On 4 May 2017, the final result from Northumberland Council was decided on the drawing of straws. A Liberal Democrat candidate won, denying the Conservative Party an overall majority. Don’t be caught out, talk to your elections team.
For everything else you need to know about election counts, read Anna Caig’s brilliant post
At the last General Election, live video hadn’t really caught on. Periscope and Facebook Live are now very much centre stage. Have you had a chat yet with your elections team and returning officer about whether you’ll be broadcasting the result and speeches? One to think about early and bottom out exactly how, when and who. It’s an amazing opportunity for comms team to show the power and reach of live video – check out Dan Slee’s post for pointers.
And finally, a virtual pat on the shoulder for government comms colleagues
Along with the practical chat, there was sympathy in the room for central government communications teams. A snap general election means immediate disruption to projects and plans that have been in place for months or even years. Launches have been delayed, legislation abandoned and there is a limbo period until a new Parliament is elected and a Government formed. It’s a pressured time. Stay strong guys, and roll on 9 June.
Kelly Quigley is an elections obsessed communications officer at South Cambridgeshire District Council