Along with the rest of the country, Caerphilly County Borough will head to the polls on December 12, but it’s down to the council’s interim chief executive to oversee the “massive operation” which covers more than 130,000 residents across two constituencies.
Caerphilly County Borough Council’s interim chief executive Christina Harrhy is the returning officer for Caerphilly and Islwyn, the two constituencies in the local authority area.
The Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency is overseen by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.
A returning officer is responsible for the General Election in their relevant authority area.
On top of her role as chief executive for the council, Ms Harrhy is employed by the Electoral Commission as the returning officer for Caerphilly and Islwyn.
Ms Harrhy said it was important to “work with the utmost integrity.”
She said: “I get notified of the pre-election period by the government before any General Election.
“The statutory minimum notice is six weeks, which is what we’ve been given.
“As it coincides with budget consultations it’s up to each chief executive to decide whether to go ahead or delay the budget until after the election has taken place.
“I have had to look at our forward work plans because as a council we need to make sure we are not providing any political party with a platform.”
It is the high sheriff of Gwent who holds the power of oversight in the General Election, but by convention this right is delegated to the returning officer.
Across the two constituencies in Caerphilly there are 130,000 on the electoral register. Of these, 21,000 have registered for postal votes.
The election is a massive operation in Caerphilly with 800 staff covering 133 polling stations on December 12. The 800 staff are employed by the returning officer and not the council.
In the past polling stations have ranged from schools and community centres to caravans and pubs.
Ms Harrhy said: “Polling stations are inspected throughout the day.
“We have a great pool of staff who love doing this.
“It’s a massive operation.
“We are currently in the process of printing 110,000 ballot papers.”
On the day, Ms Harrhy will have four deputies helping her run the operation.
She said: “We do receive training for the role.
“It’s important to be prepared.
“With a winter election comes added concerns such as weather.
“If something were to happen to me, the deputies will be there to make sure nothing goes wrong.
“We are in close contact with Gwent Police and other partnerships.
“We have to make sure we are equipped to deal with all kinds of weather, which is where our highways team comes in.
“We have also created a reserve list of staff for the first time, in case the weather is bad, or people get ill and can’t make it.”
Ms Harrhy said that risk assessments were as important as ever.
Schools have been used as polling stations for years, but the short notice of the election has created extra safeguarding risks.
“Normally we have more than six weeks’ notice for elections and schools that are used as polling stations tend to coincide an inset day with election day,” Ms Harrhy said.
“This time we haven’t had much notice, so extra safeguarding assessments have taken place to make sure that the polling stations are away from the main operation of the school.”
In the evening on December 12, Ms Harrhy will be responsible for overseeing the verification of ballots in the two constituencies.
She said it was important that politicians know what is going on at each stage.
She anticipates that the result for Islwyn will come in at 1am and Caerphilly should be ready to announce by 2.30am.
As the returning officer, Ms Harrhy will announce the result.
The count in Caerphilly will take place at Caerphilly leisure centre, while the Islwyn count will be at Newbridge leisure centre.
The polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm on December 12.
To find out where your polling station is, or to see the completed list, visit https://www.caerphilly.gov.uk/My-Council/Voting-and-elections/General-Election-2019