PRAISED: Returning officer election reaction
Hartlepool’s returning officer has praised everyone involved with organising four elections in the town, while also dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, but admitted it has been “a real challenge”.
Denise McGuckin, Hartlepool Borough Council returning officer and managing director, had been responsible for helping to organise arrangements as residents in the town went to the polls in four elections last Thursday.
Verification of all votes took place when the polls closed at 10pm Thursday evening, and from there counts for the elections ran into Friday, before staff returned to provide the local election results on Saturday.
Mrs McGuckin said it has been a challenging period involving a lot of hard work, especially given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “It’s definitely been a challenge.
“It started when the elections were announced to go ahead, so we then had to look at a Covid safe environment, not just for the count, but also the 57 polling stations.
“We had to do risk assessments, not only from a health and safety perspective, but also Covid risk assessments, to make sure we manage and try and control and limit any outbreaks.
“We’ve managed to do that I think, but we won’t know for a couple of weeks obviously.”
The addition of the Parliamentary by-election to the already scheduled council, Tees Valley Mayor and Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner elections, which were postponed last year due to Covid-19, also led to long hours for those involved.
Mrs McGuckin said: “It’s been a lot of anguish and then with the Parliamentary by-election on top of that, it was just what we didn’t need.
“Myself and the team, I was up at 5 on Thursday morning and didn’t get to bed until 8pm Friday, and the team has been exactly the same, some of them in polling stations from 7am.”
She added following the end of the day on Friday staff “slept like teenagers” ahead of coming back for the local election count on Saturday.
She said: “It has been difficult, and the team have just supported each other throughout, there’s been no tensions, we’ve worked really hard, I can’t praise them enough.”
Mrs McGuckin became council managing director in September last year, during the pandemic, and said her time in the role to date has been a “baptism of fire”.
She said: “It’s been a challenge, people keep saying it’s been a baptism of fire and it has, Covid, then Christmas, and then Hartlepool had the second highest rate of cases in the country with Covid.
“We’ve done a lot of work, working with partners and the community to make sure that we try and get the message out about hands, face, space.
“My biggest priority, not only to make sure we had an open election, was to make sure we had a safe election as well.”
However she added she is now looking forward to getting to work with a new set of councillors, along with a new MP for the town.
She said: “I think we need that positivity at the moment following the year and a half of what we’ve been going through.
“The vaccine rate in Hartlepool is really high, cases are really low, it definitely feels like a new dawn.”
Words: Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporter
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