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May elections in Wolverhampton

January 9, 2021 12:14 PM
By Bryan Lewis

Democracy delayed? Voters and officials need clarity now on England's May elections

Which activities are essential during a pandemic? Schools? Shops? Businesses? Sports? But what about elections? Should they go ahead?

Wolverhampton Council elections that were meant to take place in May 2020 were postponed qnd are now rescheduled for May 2021. Should they too be postponed a second time?

When asked, the Prime Minister said "We have to "keep it under review". But that isn't good enough. If the votes are to go ahead, important steps need to be set in motion immediately. At some point, it becomes a question of whether postponing yet again poses a threat to democratic freedoms.

These elections matter because they hold politicians to account and allow citizens to shape how public services are run.

A key question is the importance of enabling postal voting. This facilitates higher turnout and reduces risks to staff and the public. However, it would be difficult to organise all-postal elections for May even though there are rigorous anti-fraud mechanisms in place.

Only if these mechanisms were relaxed could all-postal elections be feasible for May, which means this isn't really a serious option. It would, however, be possible with a short delay if everyone could be encouraged to apply for a postal vote since there are no limitations on who can apply.

There are other best practices that the UK government has been slow to adopt. It needs to act urgently to have them in place.

Voting could be spread over several days. This would make it easier for voters to socially distance in polling stations while giving everyone time to take part. There is time for legislation to be drawn up and introduced if the government acts now.

Unfortunately, the UK government has not promised additional funds to make the 2021 elections safe. Chloe Smith, the minister for constitution and devolution, apparently envisages no additional funding being made available to local authorities to conduct the 2021 elections.

COVID-19 is presenting a very changeable situation and the new strain in the UK may cause plans to change. But if the May elections are to go ahead in England, urgent and decisive action is needed immediately.