All the processes involved in local electoral services are critical to the nation’s democracy. With this in mind, there is immense pressure on local councils to get every aspect of service delivery right – and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Ensuring the electorate has all the relevant information to make a fair and informed personal decision, in the form of voting, underpins democracy itself. Therefore enabling access to resources and information is a huge undertaking.
Alongside that, there is also the consideration that people’s engagement requirements are constantly changing. What this means for the council is that public services must regularly adapt to meet the demand of citizens who are increasingly used to a seamless and digital way of operating elsewhere in their lives. Contending with high expectations of digital services, for publicly funded bodies, can be challenging.
Further, with the UK government’s proposal for The Elections Bill, it’s clear that local authorities will increasingly be under the microscope. The proposal outlines a number of reforms to UK electoral processes, including a mooted requirement to enable electors to apply more easily for a postal vote. These updates promise to promote social good and even the playing field; however they do indicate a rapid shift towards a more digital future, highlighting the need for technology investments to be made across the public sector.
This is why our council opted to invest in a technology partner to support us with tools that could streamline annual canvassing, register administration, boundary management, citizen engagement and other electoral processes. As with any local authority, Bracknell Forest Council went through a rigorous procurement process and selected Idox, a leading developer of specialist information management solutions for the public sector, to allow us to keep up with the demands of the digital era. Our main aim was to redistribute resources required to carry out vital electoral tasks and instead assign them to other value-boosting citizen engagement activities, which maximises our electoral register’s completeness and accuracy, one of our key responsibilities.
Opting for a technological solution has meant that council staff can rely less on physical documents and outdated processes, which are cumbersome and restrict evolution of public services. Further, the Bracknell Forest Council electorate demand and deserve their information held by the council to be accurate. For this to be possible, the data held must be up to date, requiring the council to continually engage with residents, which if not done electronically, is expensive and onerous. The electoral services team must manage and facilitate all kinds of data additions, edits and extractions simply, efficiently and above all: compliantly. Needless to say, this level of data management exerts immense pressure on teams, which is why technology has been chosen to support them.
The decision to invest in an electoral management solution has empowered us in ensuring data can be easily handled and amended. It has been pleasing to see how an investment in the right technology can provide value in such an important line of work. Specifically, it has given us freedom, confidence and insight to evolve and adapt our usual methods around elections, referendums, annual canvass and boundary changes.
What’s more, the system also streamlines other elements behind the delivery of electoral events, which are usually time-intensive and naturally must be accurate and fact-checked. This means that the delivery of the authority’s elections and other services are all easily managed under one roof. With so many moving parts involved, an end-to-end electoral solution will continue to improve the way the council operates overall.
Ultimately, relying too much on physical documents and manually handling administrative tasks will soon be unfeasible for local authorities. The continued digitisation of the public sector is fundamental in ensuring citizens have greater access to the services that are essential to how they live, work and vote.
Historically, the UK’s government has a rich tapestry of examples where electoral processes have worked well, but this does not mean that we should continue to rely on practices that are decades old and not fit for purpose in a digital economy.
Keeping pace with digital evolution seen elsewhere in society will be pivotal to ensuring fair and well-distributed information citizens need to make influential decisions. Technology’s importance in driving this change cannot be overstated.
Ann Moore is head of democratic and registration services at Bracknell Forest Council