Belfast Telegraph

Concerns over training of polling station staff for Northern Ireland election

By Rebecca Black

Fears have been raised by election workers that they may not be properly trained in time for the snap Assembly poll next month.

The Stormont election comes less than a year after the last one in May 2016.

A polling station worker has indicated to the Belfast Telegraph that due to the short notice, the Electoral Office is unable to train as many people as it usually would.

The problem relates to the manning of the scores of polling stations across Northern Ireland on election day, Thursday, March 2.

Workers in polling stations ensure the process goes smoothly as voters arrive to cast their ballot, including checking they have brought the appropriate identification and that they are registered to vote.

They also have to ensure that political parties abide by the rules that canvassers may not attempt to electioneer inside the polling station.

The Belfast Telegraph has seen a letter sent from the Electoral Office to staff which warns of "an urgent need to fill staffing positions due to the short time frame".

Staff receive a fee for working on polling day, as well as mileage claims if the person is responsible for the transportation of ballot boxes.

As well as an urgent appeal for staff, the letter also says that only a certain number of them will be trained.

"Due to the short time frame it has been decided to only train freed-up presiding officers, polling station managers, polling station inspectors and newly-appointed poll clerks," the letter reads.

And the letter adds that on polling day itself, managers will have just 15 minutes to ensure all staff have been trained.

While polls open at 7am, doors open half an hour earlier.

"The hours of the poll will be 7am to 10pm but you must arrive no later than 6.15am to set up the polling station and provide a briefing to your staff," the letter states.

"Please note your new start time is 6.15am to ensure your staff have been appropriately trained."

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Office said it will not be short-staffed for the upcoming election.

"The Electoral Office of Northern Ireland is operating with our full complement of staff in the same manner as for the 2016 election and referendum," she said.

"Because of such recent election activity, best use of public monies means that it is not necessary to put staff who worked on an election last year through the full training package again, only some nine months on.

"New staff are, of course, receiving face-to-face training and polling station managers are required to attend refresher training in person.

"Experienced staff who carried out this work during the election and referendum will receive our training handbook again in advance of polling day and will be briefed by their polling station manager on the morning of the poll.

"Deputy returning officers continue to be in contact with our casual staff to ensure the necessary support."

Belfast Telegraph


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