Ten Top Tips for Returning Officers of School Trustee Elections

These tips are to be read alongside the Returning Officer Handbook from the New Zealand School Trustees Association.



1. Start with a clean database.

A well-kept database is a bonus. ‘Cleaning’ a database involves removing errors. All databases have them. However, there are a few common challenges.

CLICK HERE for more tips on how to clean the spreadsheet for the electoral roll.


2. Keep key dates handy.

I print the NZSTA key dates schedule and post it on the wall beside my computer. It is surprising how often an RO needs to refer to the schedule to prepare materials.


3. Keep the electoral roll simple.

Not many will check the electoral roll. All the same, in some contested elections, the electoral roll will be carefully scrutinised. Order names alphabetically by last name. Check for duplicate names before you print. Bind the roll for a professional look.


4. Provide a receipt for every nomination

Avoid disputes. Send a text message or email straight away.

Most nominations arrive in the last 48 hours before nominations close. This is Returning Officer rush hour! Online nomination via the Myschoolelection app automatically gives the candidate a receipt and eliminates your last-minute stress.



5. Prepare the electoral roll as soon as possible.

Transient parents or caregivers often forget to update their home address at the school office. This means that your posted Call for Nominations will trigger a Return to Sender in your NZ Post mailbox – too late for fixing voting papers. Use email or SMS messaging to check physical addresses. A free template for MailChimp or SMS messaging comes with the myschoolelection app. I use this to support the Call for Nominations.



6. Eliminate double-handling

If the nomination form goes to school reception and then to you the Returning Officer, this is double-handling. It is easy for forms to go missing or to arrive late. Many election complaints occur this way. Online nomination avoids this problem.



7. Ask for electronic candidate statements

Ask for candidate statements in Word or via email rather than on paper. If statements arrive in pdf format, transfer into txt or note form. Handwritten statements should be typed up as soon as they are received. If you use the myschoolelection app, the Returning Officer dashboard offers single-click options to prepare Candidate Statements in pdf or give you easy cut-and-paste.



8. Keep your diary free for the weekend after nominations close

If you use a manual system, your school is large, you have many candidates, or you are working on multiple elections, be prepared to work over the weekend. You have only five days to get the voting papers out.

Mistakes happen when you are in a hurry. CHECK that you have all candidate nomination forms. Names must be correctly spelled. Use a second person to double-check your voting paper.

If you have access to the myschoolelection dashboard, then click the “Generate Voting Papers” button and add correct date and logo. Voting papers are ready for printing with spelling errors eliminated. Enjoy your weekend!



9. Use a printing house to manage printing and postage

Life is too short to stuff every envelope yourself. Machines can do that for you. If you use the (optional) Votext system from NZPost, you still need to check that the papers are correct.

Discount rates for postage are available from many printing companies.



10. Publicise the election via all media

Use the SMS messaging system, if the school has one, to publicise the election and showcase candidates; put links on Facebook; get the principal to Twitter nominations as they arrive! Links to online nominations forms such as myschoolelection.nz make it easy for candidates.



BONUS TIP 1: Keep the school office person in the loop too

While the principal and the board chair are your key people, the person at reception will field most questions. Cc all updates to her/him. Provide a copy of dates. Give her/him the words to use for the school newsletter, email or SMS message. Check that the ballot box is ready! If you use online nominations, give clear instructions that you want candidates to go to the website.



BONUS TIP 2: If you are the Returning Officer for an intermediate school…

Contributing school databases must be combined to create the electoral roll. Watch out for duplicate caregivers. Add a column to your database that identifies which school the caregiver is connected to (I use a three-letter code) so that you can check back with the original database if there is a problem.



For more information about the Returning Officer application that makes your job easy, click on the logo below.