Call for general election supremo

By Alex Stevenson

A single person needs to be placed in charge of supervising general elections, the Electoral Commission's head has said.

Jenny Watson, who was also the chief counting officer for this year's referendum on electoral reform, made the call as the Electoral Commission published a new report lauding the benefits of central control.

This year's referendum passed off without any problems because, the report claimed, Ms Watson was able to issue directions ensuring that polling stations were staffed appropriately.

The general election was marred by a number of cases of voters being turned away because they were queuing to vote when polls closed.

"It was clear that lessons needed to be learned from the 2010 general election and the problems that emerged with queues at 22:00," Ms Watson said.

"Those lessons were about proper planning. Only with real-time monitoring of performance during elections and the power to intervene when things are going wrong can the commission ensure those lessons continue to be applied ahead of polling day."

Under current rules returning officers are only given guidelines on how to do their job in general. Poor planning from some officers was blamed by the Electoral Commission for the failings in May 2010.

In the 2011 alternative vote referendum 47 counting officers who were considered 'high risk' at the start of the planning period had been downgraded by polling day.

"Having delivered a successful referendum we are now in a good position to take a view on how the management of elections can be improved," Ms Watson added.

"The ability to intervene to ensure best practice by local returning officers, and to prescribe consistent material for voters that meets the highest accessibility standards, helped us ensure voters were put first."

The Electoral Commission wants those safeguards to be put in place for general elections.