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Running Cambridge election 'is exciting'

5 May 10 10:10 GMT

by Laura MacDonald
BBC News, Cambridge

As voters in Cambridge go to the polls on Thursday, one woman will spend the day ensuring everything goes smoothly.

Antoinette Jackson, the chief executive of Cambridge City Council, is acting returning officer for the constituency and is responsible for running the city's elections.

She told the BBC that while her job comes with a lot of responsibility, it is also very exciting.

Officially, Cambridge mayor Russ McPherson is the ceremonial returning officer for the city but it is Ms Jackson who handles the day-to-day administration of the election.

As the returning officer, she is responsible for everything from handling candidate nominations to preparing the ballot papers.

This election is the first time Ms Jackson has been a returning officer, although she has served as a deputy and has been trained by the Electoral Commission.

'No problems'

On election day, she will lead a team of more than 300 election staff monitoring exactly what is going on at all 42 polling stations across the city.

"I will have election staff on duty from 0630 BST, making sure polling stations open on time...[and] making sure presiding officers are there and that there are no problems getting into the polling stations," she explains.

Throughout election day, Ms Jackson says she will be accompanying the mayor on visits to polling stations across the city.

She said: "The mayor and I will be visiting to make sure everything is OK at the polling stations.

"We need to make sure there are no banners or political literature up at polling stations."

Ms Jackson will get a brief break from her duties when she goes home for dinner before she returns to the Guildhall, ready to brief the 65 election staff who will be on hand during the count.

When the polls close at 2200 BST, ballot boxes from across the city will begin their journey to the Guildhall. Boxes from Fishers Hall, the nearest polling station, are expected to arrive as soon as 2210 BST.

Election staff will count the boxes to ensure none has gone astray and the process of counting Cambridge's votes will begin.

The first step is verification, when the number of ballots in each box is counted and compared with the number of ballots handed out at the polling station.

If the two numbers do not match, Ms Jackson will meet with the agents for each party and agree how many missing ballots they can reasonably accept.

She says that "one or two" ballots may not be in the boxes, as some people have been known to walk out of the polling station with their ballot instead of putting it in the box.

Once all the votes have been verified and ballots cast by post have been added, the count can begin.

'Exciting responsibility'

Even if everything goes smoothly, Ms Jackson doesn't think a result will be revealed until 0230 BST at the earliest.

"The mayor will announce the results (of the general election)... but for the local elections, I announce the results," she explains.

Ensuring the election runs smoothly is hard work but Ms Jackson says she is excited to be Cambridge's returning officer.

"It is a responsibility to make sure we're capturing everyone's votes... but it is an exciting responsibility," she said.

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