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Returning officer overview

Tim Slater Voting Management

Running a vote can be a complicated business. Getting the details right is the job of the returning officer. This is the person appointed to carry out the election or ballot. Their integrity, impartiality and competence is critical to the overall result.

Returning officers need management skills, administrative experience and a strong understanding of electoral process. They also need appropriate technical knowledge of any electronic voting system that’s being used in the election or ballot.

Why do they matter?

As playwright Tom Stoppard put it, “It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting”. Good governance can make or break the legitimacy of any vote.

What does being a returning officer really involve?

Whilst not an exhaustive list, these are the critical areas.

  • Planning within a governance framework

    The vote may be subject to legislation or regulations, such as those laid out by Fair Work Australia, or organisation specific requirements. The returning officer must be aware of all those requirements to carry out a compliant election or ballot.

  • Defining the voting channels and processes

    How voters will cast their vote is an important consideration in maximising participation. Privacy and security are critical for all forms of voting. The returning officer needs to be able to support, troubleshoot, and protect the integrity of any voting channels being used.

  • Ensuring voters are well informed

    Voters must know how to vote, and also have access (or copies) of all the information required for them to cast an informed vote. It is sometimes necessary to develop custom communications for voters with special requirements.

  • Supporting the voters

    Once the voting period begins, voters may need support to cast their vote or obtain more information about what they are voting for. Participation rates need to be tracked (ideally in real time) and segments of the voting population will need to be reminded to vote.

  • Completing the count

    Counting is either done manually (in the case of post) or through automated voting systems. Impartiality is key, as is the ability to maintain a complete audit trail so that results stand up to scrutiny.

  • Declaring the result

    The result should be available within 24 hours of the voting period ending. A full audit should be completed. This is especially important should the result ever be challenged.

Need a returning officer for an upcoming vote?

GoVote’s returning officer service means your election, and election result, is backed by decades of experience and established processes that stand up to scrutiny. We can also provide expertise and custom solutions to client returning officers who need help in particular areas. Get in touch today for a confidential discussion.