'Super Thursday' ballot box boost to print

Jo Francis
Thursday, May 6, 2021

Specialist print suppliers have pulled out all the stops for today’s ‘Super Thursday’ elections, although things did not run entirely smoothly for one supplier.

Polling stations close at 10pm
Polling stations close at 10pm

The elections taking place across local councils in England, as well as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd, are second only to a general election in scale. 

The postponement of last year’s local council elections due to Covid-19 has resulted in the biggest local elections in 50 years, with around 5,000 seats being contested in 143 councils. 

Elections are also taking place for 39 police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, 13 directly-elected mayors across England, 25 seats in the London Assembly, and there is also a high-profile by-election in Hartlepool. 

The scale of complexity involved includes the variable number of candidates, tight deadlines, and an increase in postal voting due to the pandemic. 

Research by the Electoral Commission found that 22% of people in England who would normally vote in person would vote by post instead this year, with the equivalent figures for Wales and Scotland 19% and 22% respectively.

Specialist providers handling election work include Civica Election Services, Paragon Group, Tall Group and FDM. 

However, Adare SEC, which has a number of substantial contracts with local councils for electoral printing and fulfilment services, is understood to have experienced unspecified production issues, with deliveries going down to the wire as a result. 

A spokesperson at Adare SEC customer Newcastle City Council commented: “Along with a number of other councils, Newcastle City Council was initially impacted by problems with printing and distribution of election ballot papers.

“However, we can confirm that Newcastle now has everything it requires to carry out both the local council and Police and Crime Commissioner elections. 

“This has been a challenging election to organise with the extra Covid secure measures required but candidates and the public can be assured everything is in place to ensure a fair and safe election on Thursday.”

The Cabinet Office helped to convene communications between the areas affected prior to the polls opening this morning. 

A spokesperson told Printweek: “We are supporting the independent Returning Officers and electoral sector and understand that the issues are being resolved with the contractors. We have every confidence in their ability to deliver the polls successfully.”

Adare SEC declined to comment. 

An industry source commented: “This is really, really complex work. A lot of files come in and you need full integrity to be able to deal with it all. It sounds like they had a process issue.”

There have also been a number of local reports from different regions, including Sheffield, about problems with postal voting packs being delayed due to a “printing error” at an unspecified supplier or suppliers. 

A local council source told Printweek that it would be helpful if some of the deadlines and cut-off points involved could be changed in future, to allow more time for the complex printing and logistical aspects to take place, although this would require a change in legislation. 

Runcorn-headquartered Tall Group has many years of experience in printing for ballots in both domestic and export markets. 

Group managing director Martin Ruda said: “UK ballot paper printing is a substantial exercise and I think this year has been more complex than previous years given the number of elections involved. We have satisfactorily fulfilled all our commitments.

“The vast majority of the population do not appreciate the complexities and challenges involved. An appreciation of just how complex it is, and what the industry does to get it all in place, is probably something we could educate more people about. Generally speaking, it’s an example of an industry that responds when the chips are down very successfully and the industry does do a very good job.”

Anecdotally, the elections have also resulted in an increase in doordrops and mailings from candidates, due to issues around door-to-door canvassing because of Covid-19. 

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