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Electoral Returning Officers

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what options are available to investigate and deal with errors, maladministration and corrupt practice by an electoral returning officer. (78607)

The Electoral Administration Bill provides for a returning officer to take such steps as he thinks appropriate to remedy any procedural error on the part of himself or his staff relating to the conduct of an election, although he may not re-count the votes once the result is declared.

Maladministration or corrupt practice by a returning officer that is considered to have materially affected the result of an election may be challenged by means of an election petition.

In addition, there are various offences of corrupt practice at an election, so allegations of corrupt practice by a returning officer may be referred to the police for investigation and any further action.

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many complaints have been made against an electoral returning officer in respect of the conduct of elections in each of the last five years. (78608)

Formal complaints against the actions of a returning officer that are considered to have materially affected the result of an election are made by election petition. Although not all election petitions allege any error or wrongdoing on the part of a returning officer, they are all required to name the returning officer as respondent to the petition.

In the last five years, the number of election petitions that have included specific complaints about the returning officer are as follows:

Number

2002

5

2003

6

2004

4

2005

1

2006

4

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether it is a duty of an electoral returning officer to report to the police (a) the fake witnessing of a candidate’s nomination papers and (b) other incidents of possible fraud during the course of an election when such incidents became known to the returning officer; and if she will make a statement. (78890)

Returning officers are responsible for running elections and for ensuring they are conducted in accordance with the relevant rules. It is for individual returning officers to reach their own conclusions on any possible incidents of electoral malpractice or fraud, and to decide whether they should report such matters to the police.

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will make it her policy to enable the police to investigate possible incidents of electoral fraud or other irregularities during or after an election other than exclusively on the instructions of a returning officer; and if she will make a statement. (78891)

It is open to any person to report possible incidents of fraud to the police at any time. It will be for the police to decide what action to take in relation to any such reported incidents, and the nature and timing of any investigation that may take place into them.

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what duties are placed upon returning officers in respect of following advice from the Electoral Commission. (78932)

None. The Electoral Commission issues general advice to returning officers on a range of issues relating to the conduct of elections. Returning officers are ultimately responsible for the running of elections and for deciding what action to take in any particular case to ensure they are conducted in accordance with the rules.