Returning Officers are not specifically obliged to let political parties in their area know that a by-election has been called. Many, if not most, do but for those that don’t or are reluctant here are the arguments for doing so:
Returning Officers have a direct responsibility to increase participation in elections. This is made clear :
a) In the “Vision for Quality Electoral services” from the Electoral Commission’s “ Performance standards for Returning Officers” a key expectation that those involved in government and the Electoral Commission can expect is “Maximum participation in elections”. The Electoral Commission have the power to set and monitor these performance standards under the Electoral Administration Act 2006 as it amends Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
b) In section 69 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 requires that an ERO must ‘take such steps as he thinks appropriate to encourage the participation by electors in the electoral process in the area for which he acts’.
Introducing procedures/protocols that make those parties that regularly contest elections in an area aware that a by-election has been called and therefore the deadline for nominations will both encourage a range of candidates for the electorate and thereby increase participation in two ways.
a) by campaigning for their candidate using literature etc. creating awareness and interest in the election.
b) having a candidate supporters of a party can vote for rather than ignore the poll all together or spoil their ballot.
John Bridges August 2010