"If you can confirm that the witness did sign the nomination paper the same day as the candidate did could you please mark this date on the nomination paper next to the witness signature. I thought I would let you know this before you came just in case you had to chase to do this before you came in."
Fortunately in this particular council area every candidate had signed their forms in my presence, so I was able to assure the RO that the witness signature was correct. I was concerned, however, that if I had been unable to verify this (as would be the case in many constituencies) there could be a great deal of inconvenience with candidates being asked to sign the form again. Indeed, had candidates gone away for Easter, it was not inconceivable that they might not be around until after close of nominations, with particularly catastrophic affect.
Subsequently, the Electoral Commission have published the following statement (which I am happy to produce in full)
There is no requirement in law for the consent to include a date alongside the witness signature. The form is prescribed in law and the form provided in the election rules does not include an
As a blogger, with a not insubstantial readership, I feel a duty to be honest and to acknowledge and correct any errors, howsoever caused. I am therefore not only happy to publish this correction but also apologise for any concern my original post may have caused. With hindsight I should have perhaps challenged my ROs ruling or checked the necessary legislation prior to blogging. A lesson I will learn for the future.
Notwithstanding the above, I must still ask why this advice was issued. Was it,
(a) Human error on the part of my local RO? After all, everyone can make mistakes - especially when under pressure. Or,
(b) My local RO adding an additional level of bureaucracy not required by legislation. Or,
(c) Perhaps the council were advised incorrectly (either by a local compliance officer or someone else) and that advice was retrospectively rescinded.
I deal with six ROs and find them all helpful, accessible and dedicated. Along with the agents representing all other parties, I have no complaints with the service we receive. However, informing an election agent / candidate that candidates might need to re-sign paperwork submitted in good faith could well have caused a great deal of anguish and inconvenience.
I have written to the RO concerned and asked for further clarification about the events leading to this advice being issued. I am not going to publish the correspondence or name the Council as to do so would simply cause ill-feeling, though I will probably publish the outcome of my enquiries for the sake of bringing the issue to closure.