Government gives green light to hold local elections

By Daniel Clark   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Friday 5th February 2021 11:38 am
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The 2021 local elections will go ahead as planned, the Government has confirmed.

Doubts had been raised about whether it was possible to hold the ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, but this morning, it has been announced that the council, mayoral, and police and crime commissioner elections will take place on May 6.

The Government have said that the public health response to Covid-19, not least the vaccination programme, means that they can commit to go ahead with the polls with confidence.

They are currently working with the Electoral Commission to ensure that we are setting out clearly how social distancing and other rules apply specifically to all aspects of the polls, and they will maintain the choice for voters between in person and absent voting (using a postal or proxy vote).

WHAT ELECTIONS WILL GO AHEAD?

As well as the delayed local elections in Exeter and Plymouth, and the PCC elections, the regularly scheduled 2021 Devon County Council elections will take place, as well as a series of delayed by-elections, and Neighbourhood Plan referendums.

On Thursday, May 6, everyone in South Hams will also have the chance to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner for the region.

Alison Hernandez, the incumbent, has already been re-selected as the Conservative candidate to continue in her post.

The elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the region would normally serve a four year term, but will instead only serve a three year term to ensure the return to the usual electoral cycle.

The 2021 Devon County Council elections scheduled for Thursday, May 6, will take place as usual.

The entirety of the 60-strong council will be up for re-election, with 56 ‘single-member’ electoral divisions and two ‘two-member’ Divisions’.

The current composition of the council consists of 42 Conservatives, seven Labour, six Liberal Democrats, two Independents, one Green Party, one East Devon Alliance and one North Devon Liberal.

All elected councillors will serve their usual four-year term upon their election.

One by-election for a seat on South Hams District Council will take place on the same date, Thursday, May 6, following the death of a serving councillor.

Voters in the Ivybridge West ward will go to the polls for the by-election, with the winner serving a two year term on the council.

The by-election will determine the official status of the council, with the death of Cllr David May, meaning that the Conservative’s majority was lost with the council back under no overall control, although the Conservatives are still the ruling party.

WHAT MEASURES WILL BE USED TO MAKE ELECTIONS SAFER?

There will be an estimated £92m of government grant funding that will be provided to local authorities for the elections; of this, £31 million is an uplift to directly address costs associated with making the elections COVID-19 secure.

Everyone who feels comfortable going to a supermarket or a post office should also feel confident attending a polling station in May. We encourage anybody who is shielding, or who would prefer not to attend a polling station, to apply for a postal or proxy vote ahead of the polls.

The government is making the following commitments:

Voters will have a choice between in person and absent voting. Postal and proxy voting will be supported, and proxy voting rules changed so that those affected by COVID-19 in the days before the poll can still vote.

We will work with our partners to make sure that voters, electoral staff, candidates, campaigners and the wider public are protected to the maximum extent possible from the spread of disease. We will be clear about how existing public health regulations and guidance apply to essential voting activities.

Candidates and their agents will have additional guidance on the specific application of social distancing and other regulations to their activities, including nominations and campaigning.

Returning Officers and local authorities will have support from the government that they need to deliver the elections, including additional funding for the extra costs the necessary public health measures will generate. 

Voters will continue to have access to three methods of voting:

in person at a polling station

by postal vote

by proxy vote, and rules will be created for proxy voting to ensure that anyone who is self-isolating can request a proxy vote at the last minute – up to 5pm on polling day itself. 

Inside polling stations, hand sanitiser will be available and, where appropriate, screens and distance markings will be in use. Polling stations will need to be set up to maximise ventilation, and frequent touch points will need to be cleaned at very regular intervals. All touch points should be cleaned before and after use.

Voters should bring their mask, as they would wear in any indoor public place, and we will be encouraging them to bring their own pen or pencil with which to mark their ballot paper.

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