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Is your IT election-ready?

What to consider when preparing for the UK's upcoming local and general elections.


election counter
Paul Fleming

Paul Fleming

Chief Strategist Public Sector

Softcat's Advisory Service has developed an Election Ready IT Assessment, to provide Returning Officers and CEOs high level assurance during this busy election year. This blog talks about the important role for Local Authorities during 2024. 

2024 is a critical year for UK Local Authorities and their statutory role as part of the General Elections process. As well as local and regional elections, between now and January 2025 there must also be a national General Election. Given the Prime Minister’s most recent announcement on when that might happen, it's highly likely that Local Authorities will be mobilising multiple elections processes over the next ten months.

The role of technology in the election process

To the un-initiated, the process can look relatively simple. The reality for Local Authority teams however is month's worth of preperation and a precision process fraught with risk, excitement and a huge sense of purpose. Despite the proliferation of legislated paper and the manual processes involved, technology and digital is key to delivering a successful election. For example, election teams use specialist IT systems behind the scenes to ensure an efficient and compliant process:

  • Specialist printers and scanners are deployed.
  • The local Council website plays a key role in informing the public.
  • Election counting halls require connectivity.

Everyone involved in leading and running the election is using digital technology to plan, communicate and coordinate, and what this technology requires is resilient, secure and efficient infrastructure as well as effective continuity plans.

The cyber threat

The cyber security threat to Local Authorities and Elections is increasing year on year. Given the traditional, paper ballot methods, the UK electoral process is less vulnerable than some countries. However, the potential for disruption and the risk to personal data is real and rising. The cyber security threat and market is continually evolving, therefore it’s critical that senior leaders engage with strategic partners like Softcat on a regular basis to stay up to date... A conclusion I’ve come to after having served as a Council Chief Officer, SIRO and Deputy Returning Officer for several years. 

It’s not just security either. The impact of failure of infrastructure can have serious consequences to the statutory process. Ensuring networks and core back-end systems are resilient, that data and systems are backed up and that everything is accessible for key staff is a non-negotiable. Sometimes organisations will also need to rely on their business continuity plans, ensuring that these are fully tested against the worst-case scenarios.  

Returning Officers (those accountable for the election process) require assurance from technical teams. An independent voice such as Softcat can help, and technical risk needs squarely aligning with organisational outcomes. Closing the gap between senior leadership and key IT roles is also encouraged - this requires collaboration, communicating with the right language and fostering high levels of trust. 

Budgets and financial challenges

We can’t talk about the important role of Local Government without mentioning the financial challenge that the sector continues to face. How can organisations do more with less, have effective and proportionate technology to keep the show on the road? We recommend regular review and assessment of digital technology, processes, skills, and portfolios. This is where a strategic partner like Softcat can help with our wide range of knowledge, experience, and industry partnerships.  

The future of elections

The future of elections looks increasingly digital with the emergence of data, AI, social and distributive technology models. This brings both opportunity and risk. We are already seeing the threat of AI driven deepfakes and social media misinformation internationally, with the potential to influence electorates. However, with the right iterative steps and good governance, technology has the potential to improve election participation, efficacy, and inclusion. 

Good luck to all the Returning Officers, Elections and IT teams for 2024. Softcat is on hand to support you to ensure that your IT is election ready. Please contact our dedicated team at